Animal Spotlight: Muntjac Deer

The Pathways to Asia is going to have at least one cuteness overload habitat! The Red Pandas and the Muntjac Deer will be congenially sharing a lushly planted and climate controlled environment. The Red Pandas spend most of their time in the trees, though, and the Muntjac Deer will be on the ground hiding, barking, and foraging for browse, soft wood and fallen fruit. However, they may sometimes dine together – both species love bamboo shoots! With the  pandas’ acrobatic tree maneuvers and the muntjac darting and jumping around until they find good munchies,  it is sure to be a crowd-pleasing habitat.

Muntjac Deer are the oldest known deer species in the world

Twelve distinct species of Muntjac Deer are native to India north to the Himalayas, Southeast Asia and southern China. However fossils of the genus Muntiacus have been found in Miocene deposits in Germany, Poland and France.  Fossils closely resembling the munjac of today, which are considered a “primitive species, date back to 15- 35 million years ago! Reeves’ Muntjac, the variety joining the Reid Park Zoo expansion, are now native to southern China and the island of Taiwan, and each location has its own distinct subspecies.  

Who is barking in my garden at night?

Muntjacs can be found in tropical to temperate forests with a great deal of cover and close to a water source. As a crepuscular mammal, you will mostly find them active at dawn and dusk. 

In the early 1900s, the Reeves (also called Common or Chinese) small Muntjac Deer were introduced in the UK’s Woburn Park   in Bedfordshire and thrived. Muntjac have now spread across southeast England and into Wales. They can be found in towns and gardens browsing on woodland understory, grassland and Farmland. So when UK gardeners hear barking in their gardens at night, it may not be the neighbor’s dog but a muntjac, nicknamed the “barking deer,” browsing on their flowers! Or vegetables.  Or they may be cleaning up any dead leaves, or savoring some fungi.      Here’s what they sound like.

How to identify one if it’s not barking

The Reeves’ Muntjac  have an even number of toes, 4 on each hoof,  so it belongs to the order Artiodactyla and in the family Cervidae. They are one of the smallest species of deer, growing to about an average of 15 inches tall, 3-4 feet long and 25 to 75 pounds. Their soft short fur color ranges from tan to a reddish brown, and covers their slender oval bodies. Their head is almost a perfect upside-down triangle, with hairless ears at the top, a dark “V” marking from antlers or knobs to the nose and soft dark eyes on the sides. Remember eyes on the side means they are a  prey species, and in order to stay safe, they use their excellent eyesight and hearing to detect predators in time to flee.

Muntjacs’ most distinguishing features are the scent glands just below each eye (preorbital) for marking their territories. The males have antlers and large canine teeth that look like fangs. They use their deer weapons for defending their territory and fighting for females.

Female Muntjac have bony knobs in place of antlers and smaller canine teeth. Both male and female are solitary and have territories. Female territories do not overlap with each other;  however,  male territories do overlap with those of females.

If you think these small deer are endearing, wait till you see their calves

Living in temperate forests, Muntjac can mate year round.  However, the months of January to March seem to be the favored breeding period. After a 6-7 month gestation, just one precocial (in other words, eyes open, ready to start eating, and ready to run) fawn is born. And like those of other deer species,  the muntjac fawns are born a little darker and with creamy white spots. This helps the calf blend in with the environment. About at 2 months of age the young are encouraged to find their own territory. By 6 -12 months Muntjac are sexually mature. And a doe who’s given birth is ready to mate again within just a week!   This fairly quick reproductive rate is important, since in Asia Muntjac are the favored meal of many formidable predators like tigers, leopards, wolves, jackals, crocodiles, and pythons.

Conservation Status

For once, we’re happy to report that a species coming soon to the Reid Park Zoo is not yet listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature!  In fact, though their populations are decreasing in the wild, the Reeves’ Muntjac is listed as “of least concern” – so when you get to see them, please consider them as ambassadors for their imperiled relatives.  The Large-Antlered Muntjac  , for example, is listed by the IUCN as critically endangered.   While the Reeves’ Muntjac is still relatively safe in the wild, we have the perfect opportunity to support and protect this unique and ancient species. 

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