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Cerfs du Père David © MNHN - F-G Grandin

Père David's deer

Originally from China, the Père David's deer, Elaphurus davidianus,has never been seen in the wild! It was discovered in the 19th century in the gardens of the Imperial palace in Beijing. A handful of individuals sent to Europe are the origin of all the current populations.

Fiche d'identité

Class, order & family :

Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Cervidae

Genus :


Species :


Lifespan :

20 years

Height and weight :

1.20 m at the shoulder, 220 kg at the most

Gestation :

9 months, one baby

Natural habitat :


Diet :

grasses, leaves, young shoots, aquatic plants

Native region :


Statut UICN: 

EW extinct in the wild

Mode de vie

The Père David's deer is particularly fond of marshlands. A very able swimmer, in hot weather it can spend several hours immersed up to its shoulders in water.

The herds are made up of either males or females with young. During mating season, the males seek to establish a harem. They fight each other, antlers versus antlers, biting each other and standing on their hind legs and kicking each other with their hooves.

Signes distinctifs

The Père David's deer has a characteristic long and narrow head. It has a red coat in summer which takes on more of a grey colour in winter.

Its broad hooves can spread widely, helping it move easily through the marshlands.


The Chinese call it “sì bù xiàng”, which means “like none of the four”. This strange name refers to its appearance: it has the neck of a camel, the hooves of a cow, the tail of a donkey and the backward-facing antlers of a deer.

Discovered in the imperial palace of Beijing by Père David (Father David) in 1865, a French missionary, it has never been seen in the wild. Skins and a skeleton were sent to the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (National Museum of Natural History) in Paris for analysis. Several individuals then arrived in various European zoos. This handful of individuals therefore escaped extinction as, following floods in 1895, and then the Boxer Rebellion, the last remaining Chinese specimens were killed and eaten by the armed troops. Later brought together by the Duke of Bedford at Woburn, 18 individuals formed the original lineage of all Père David’s deer in zoos.

In 1956, 4 deer donated by the Zoological Society of London arrived at the Zoo in Beijing. In the 1980s, a herd was reintroduced in a park near Beijing followed by another in the Dafeng Nature Reserve. Today, more than 1,300 individuals inhabit China once again!

Cerfs du Père David © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Cerf mâle du Père David © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Cerf mâle du Père David © MNHN - F-G Grandin