Our Animals - Japanese Sika Deer
Our Animals > Japanese Sika Deer
The Sika Deer, also known as the Spotted Deer or the Japanese Deer (Cervus nippon) is a species of deer that is native to much of East Asia, and also introduced to various parts of the world. It was previously found from Vietnam to the south and Russia to the north. Their name comes from "shika" (鹿), the Japanese word for "deer". The sika deer is not to be confused with the sitka deer, which is a subspecies of the mule deer, a distantly related species.
The sika deer is a member of the genus Cervus, a group of deers also known as the "true deers". Cervus was formerly a large genus consisting of 12 species, but recent genetic studies discovered that the species are more distantly related to each other than previously thought, and 8 species and 3 genera split out. The sika deer, along with the elk, red deer, and central Asian red deer, remained in the genus Cervus, with the white-tailed deer of genus Przewalskium being closely related.
There has been serious genetic pollution in many populations, especially Japan. Therefore the status of many subspecies remain uncertain. This is just one of the many different lists of the sika deer's subspecies.
The sika deer is one of the few species that do not lose their spots at maturity. Sikas from different areas differ in the numbers and obviousness of spots, with the ones from mainland Asia having large and obvious spots throughout the year, while the spots in Taiwanese and some Japanese populations are nearly invisible.
Sika deer in Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido, JapanSika deer tend to range in color from mahogany to black. They are rarely white with very few documented cases of white as opposed to albino. They are medium sized herbivores, being 50 - 95cm tall at the shoulder, and weighing 30 - 70 kg. Males are noticeably larger than females. All sikas are compact and dainty-legged with short, trim, wedge-shaped head and a boisterous disposition. When alarmed, they will often display a distinctive flared rump much like the American elk. All sikas posses the white rump except the population of Ryukyu Island.
Sika stags have stout, upright antlers with an extra buttress up from the brow tine and a very thick wall. A forward-facing intermediate tine breaks the line to the top, which is usually forked. Occasionally, sika develop some palmation. Females carry a pair of distinctive black bumps on the forehead. Antler length can range from 11 to 19 inches to better than 30 inches depending on the subspecies. Stags also sport a distinctive mane while in the rut.
Sika deer grazing in areas without human disturbance, sika deer can be active for the entire waking day. Lifestyles vary between individuals, with some occurring alone while others are found in single-sex groups. Large herds will gather in autumn and winter. The sika deer is a highly vocal species, with over 10 individual sounds ranging from soft whistles to loud screams.
Sika males are territorial and keep harems of females during the rut, which peaks from early September through October but may last well into the winter months. Territory size varies with type of habitat and size of the buck; strong, prime bucks may hold up to 2 ha. Territories are marked with a series of shallow pits, called "scrapes," into which the males urinate and from which emanates a strong, musky odor. Fights between rival males are sometimes fierce, long, and may even be fatal.
Range and Habitat
Sika deer previously had a wide distribution across East Asia from Vietnam to Russian Far East. Today their range is heavily reduced and fragmented in all areas except Japan, where the species remain common. It is extinct from Vietnam and Korea, and in China it is limited to 2 or 3 small wild populations in the Southern part of the country. There are many so called wild populations of sika deer in China, which are actually descended from escaped domesticated deer. In Russia the species is only found in Primorsky Krai.
Sika deer are found in the temperate/subtropical forests of Eastern Asia, preferring areas with dense understory, and where snowfall does not exceed 10-20 cm. They tend to forage in patchy clearings of forests. Introduced populations are found in areas with similar habitats to their native range, including Western and Central Europe, Eastern United States, and New Zealand.
Formosan Sika Deer. The sika deer inhabits the temperate and subtropical woodlands, which unfortunately are also the perfect habitats for farming and human exploitation. The sika deer are found in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and where forests were cleared away hundreds of years ago. The population status of sika deer differs significantly from the countries they are found in, due to the views of the species by people.
Japan has the largest native sika populations in the world. There are over hundreds of thousands sika deer in the wild and the numbers are still increasing. This is mainly due to the recent conservation efforts and the extinction of wolves, its main predator, from the country. Without its main enemy the population of sika deer boomed and is now overpopulated in many areas, posing a threat to both forests and farmlands. Hunting is now encouraged in Japan.
China used to have the largest population of sika deer, but thousands of years of hunting and forest logging has reduced the population to less than 1,000. Only 2 of the 5 subspecies remain, each existing in single populations of a couple hundred individuals. The other three subspecies still remain in farms and zoos, but the lack of decent habitats in the region have made reintroduction impossible.
The species was previously extinct in Taiwan, but individuals from zoos was introduced in Kenting National Park and the population now numbers 200. Reintroduction programs are also underway in Vietnam, where the species is currently extinct.
Russia has a relatively large and stable population of 9,000, but it is limited to a small area in Primorsky Krai.
The species is likely to be extinct in Korea, but unconfirmed sightings are frequent from the northeastern mountains of North Korea, possibly having migrated from Russia.
Sika Deer have been introduced into a number of other countries including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Britain, France, Ireland, Jolo Island (southern Philippines), New Zealand, Poland, Morocco and the United States (Maryland, Texas, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Kansas). In many cases they were originally introduced as ornamental animals in parkland, but have established themselves in the wild.
In Britain and Ireland several distinct wild and feral populations now exist. Some of these are in isolated areas, for example on the island of Lundy, but others are contiguous with populations of the native Red Deer. Since the two species sometimes hybridise, there is a serious conservation concern.
In the 1900s, King Edward VII presented a pair of sika deer (Cervus nippon) to John, the second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu. This pair escaped into Sowley Wood and were the basis of the large herds of sika to be found in the New Forest today. They were so prolific that culling had to be introduced in the 1930s to control numbers.
Across its original range, and more intensively in many countries to which it has been introduced, the sika is regarded as a particularly prized and elusive sportsman's quarry. In Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe it has been noted that sika display very different survival strategies and escape tactics from the indigenous deer. They have a marked tendency to use camouflage and concealment in circumstances when Red deer, for example, would flee; and have been seen to squat and lie belly-flat when danger threatens in the form of human intrusion.
Hunters and control cullers have estimated that the sika's wariness and "cleverness" makes it three or four times more difficult to bring to bag than a Red or Fallow deer. It has also been widely remarked that sika are much more tenacious of life, and harder to kill with a rifle bullet, than the native deer of Europe and North America. In the British Isles sika are widely regarded as a very serious threat to new and established woodlands, and public and private forestry bodies adopt policies of rigorous year-round culling, generally with little effect.
Among aficionados of venison, sika flesh is regarded as one of the very finest and most flavourful of all game meats at the dinner table.