The History of the Chinese Water Deer

The Chinese muntjac has a small, compact body, pale fawn colouring with huge rounded ears and obvious button-black eyes. Males (bucks) have no antlers but do have long tusk-like canines. Larger and much paler than the muntjac, with a less humpbacked appearance. It looks like a tiny roe deer rather than a muntjac.

History and Origin

The Chinese water deer is native to East China (the Yangtze flood plain), as well as Korea. They were brought to Woburn Park, Bedfordshire, in 1896, and Whipsnade Zoo in 1929-30. From 1901 onwards, they were intentionally set free into surrounding woods, but there have been numerous releases, translocations, and escapes.

The Chinese water deer was first observed in the wild in Buckinghamshire in 1945. They have a restricted distribution in East Anglia and adjacent counties, but they are still spreading. However, Reeves’ muntjac has not yet achieved as much range or abundance as before. Some colonies appear to have vanished, and others appear to have been pushed away in some instances by muntjac.

Water deer prefer wetland areas adjacent to wooded and fen habitats, but they occasionally stray into farmland. They’re most common in the Norfolk Broads and along coastal marshes. A feral, unconfined population has established itself in the parklands and dry woods of Whipsnade State Park, with no suitable wetlands nearby.

Diet of a Chinese Water Deer

Chinese water deer are browsers, so they eat leaves and other plant parts. They’ll also browse on twigs of shrubs or trees if the opportunity arises.

A Chinese Water Deer’s Life Cycle

Males do not have antlers but can use their tusk to fight for territory during mating season. A male’s tusks are around two inches long, which is much smaller than Reeves’ Muntjac males (which grow up to four inches).

The females only come into heat for about 36 hours once a year in mid-October or November time after she has reached sexual maturity at six months old. Usually one young per pregnancy with an average weight at birth of 1kg compared to 2.5kg for muntjacs. Newborns are born in early summer and weaned around five months old. They reach adult size at six months but don’t breed until the second year of life.


Water deer are territorial, scent-marking twigs with preorbital gland secretion. Around the territory’s perimeter, dung heaps appear to be markers. Water deer do not form herds but rather form loose groups or family units of a doe and her youngsters. On preferred feeding spots, loose clusters may join together.


The rut is in December when males use their tusks to battle viciously. After a pregnancy of 160-210 days, the female typically bears two or more twins. Kids are born in May and June, and they are weaned in approximately three months, yet they remain with their mother into winter. They then go their separate ways, but mortality is high at this age, and despite being sexually mature, juveniles appear to have difficulties maintaining a territory.

 What’s the difference between water deer and musk deer?

Chinese water deer and musk deer are closely related, but they’re different species. Musk deers’ antlers never fully develop, while Chinese water deers grow a pair of tusks in place of antlers. Musk deers also have more extensive underfur pelage than their cousins on land (and this is what gives them such an odd appearance).

Are water deer social animals?

No. Water deer are solitary creatures that only come together for mating, and males, in particular, are very territorial about their territory, so they won’t like people crossing over the border.

Females are somewhat more welcoming, and small clusters of females will sometimes co-habit in the same region, but these friendships are temporary.

If a predator appears, both females and fawns will flee in separate directions in an “every woman for herself” style. Before and after giving birth, females have been observed to chase other females away to ensure that the area is safe for the calves.

Are water deer aggressive?

Water deer, unlike other deer species, aren’t particularly dangerous to people. They can be ferocious towards other members of their species, however.

Males are territorial by nature, and have a number of methods for claiming their territory:

  • They’ll scent-mark a claimed area using a combination of urine and faeces.
  • They’ll dig trenches and rub their heads all over trees, branches, and logs to broadcast their scent.
  • To visibly identify their turf, some will bite off reeds and branches.

How do water deer defend themselves?

Despite their combative nature toward each other, water deer do not fight with other creatures. Their teeth are simply insufficient to defend themselves against powerful carnivores, so they know it.

When a predator approaches, they will either hide among the tall rushes of the riverbank or flee in a panic.

Water deer are known for making a distinctive warning bark to alert other water deer of an approaching predator. They do so even though they are solitary animals who don’t spend much time together.

Do people eat water deer?

Chinese Water Deer is absolutely delicious, and it can be eaten in several ways. It’s common to cook Chinese Water Deer on a skewer, and the meat is often served with rice or vegetables in Asian countries.

It has a wonderful taste, but it is not gamey or strong. Because the grain of the meat is even bigger than muntjac, it is also extremely tender. This above all demonstrates how mistaken people are about venison when there is no “deer” flavour.