The red deer (Cervus elaphus Linnaeus, 1758) is a mammal of the Cervidae family.
From a systematic point of view, it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Animalia Kingdom, Subgenus Eumetazoa, Superphylum Deuterostomia, Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata, Infraphylum Gnathostomata, Superclass Tetrapoda, Class Mammalia, Subclass Theria, Infraclasse Eutheria, Superorder Laurasiatheria, Order Artiodactyla, Suborder Ruminantia, Infraorder Sheep, Family Cervidae, Subfamily Cervinae and therefore to the genus Cervus and to the species C. elaphus.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat –
The red deer is a mammal that occupies a vast area that goes from Europe and North Africa to Central Asia, Siberia, the Far East and North America.
Its original habitat is constituted by the wooded areas with clearings or areas of little thick bush, generally in a flat environment or at low altitudes: subsequently the species is pushed into mountainous or inaccessible areas to escape the demographic and hunting pressure of man. Following reintroduction this species has brilliantly adapted to different environments such as the moor and coniferous forest.
In the past it was also widespread in most of Canada and the United States but its population has been declining and today it is only encountered in the western regions of North America, with small populations reintroduced in other areas of the continent.
In Europe, although absent from the northern regions of Fennoscandia and European Russia, it is also present on a number of islands, including the British Isles and Sardinia. It is extinct in Albania.
It has been reintroduced in some regions such as Greece, Portugal and Spain.
The red deer populates territories ranging from sea level up to over the trees (about 2500 m) in the Alps. However, throughout its range, the red deer has a fragmented distribution.
In the African continent it is present in the north-eastern regions of Algeria and in Tunisia. In the Near and Middle East it is widespread in Turkey, in the northern regions of Iran and in Iraq, but is extinct in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In Central Asia, it is found in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan (where it has become extinct), Uzbekistan, northern Afghanistan, northern India (Kashmir Valley) and northern Pakistan (where, however, it comes only occasionally); elsewhere, on the Asian continent, the noble deer lives in Siberia, Mongolia and western and northern China. In Mongolia, it populates the mountain ranges of Hövsgöl, Hangai, Hentii, Ikh Hyangan, Mongol-Altai and Govi Altai, but it has also been reintroduced in the hills of the south-east of the country. In China, it is widespread in Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Liaoning, Manchuria, Ninxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan and in the eastern regions of Tibet, including Qinghai. He also lives in Korea and in the Ussuri region, in Russia.
This species has also been introduced in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru and Argentina, where it has adapted excellently, becoming in some cases harmful, to the extent that it has been included in the list of the 100 most invasive species harmful to the world (for non-European territories).
The Cervus elaphus is a mammal of powerful build, with the male that can weigh from 100 to 300 Kg for a height at the withers from 105 to 140 cm and a length from 185 to over 220 cm; the Female is smaller, the weight can vary from 70 to 130 kg, the height from 95 to 110 cm and the length from 150 to over 180 cm.
During the course of the year this animal takes on two cloaks or “mute”:
– an autumn / winter one, which goes from October, typically tawny to grayish, with a long and thick mane to the giogaia in the Males, and white hairs from the anal mirror in both Males and Females;
– a spring, which goes from April, with replacement of the winter coat with red-tawny coat.
The dark brown youthful coat that is spotted along the sides is characteristic for a period of two months.
Only the male carries the stage and consists of two poles from which two, three or more spikes branch out in relation to the development and age of the animal. The branched trophy falls and grows again annually.
In Italy there are two subspecies of noble deer:
– the subspecies elaphus, originally widespread in Italy, had progressively reduced, probably remaining only in the province of Ferrara (Mesola wood). It was later reintroduced and spontaneously migrated to a fairly large area: in the Alpine arc the species is practically spread from Cuneo to Udine, where in the Triveneto and Lombardy regions it has constantly migrated spontaneously from neighboring countries, while in Piedmont and Valle d ‘Aosta has resorted to targeted introductions with specimens from France;
– along the Apennines, instead, there are distinct populations of noble deer: in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, along the upper part of the Tiber Valley, in the Maiella National Park, in the Abruzzo National Park, in the Pollino National Park and in the Cilento area. Other large groups, also entirely artificial, are present in large fenced wooded areas, such as Castelporziano and the La Mandria Natural Park;
– the corsicanus subspecies is instead endemic to Sardinia and Corsica, where it lives with various isolated populations.
The red deer owes its name to the “haughty” habit with an erect neck and elegant walking.
This mammal moves with great lightness and elegance inside the woods, even more thickly, and in other disparate environments.
It moves with speed both in the trot and in the gallop, so much so that in full run it can reach and exceed 60 km / h and, in the jump, it can reach in height even 2 m and more than double in length.
Both males and females live in monosexual groups, with the latter bringing even unrelated puppies with them. Within the groups, usually there are always a couple of specimens that act as sentinels while the rest of the pack feeds.
During the summer, deer tend to migrate to higher altitudes, reaching the grasslands at high altitude, where food is present in greater quantities.
At the beginning of autumn, precisely from mid-September to mid-October, the mating season begins. In this period the males separate from the groups and begin to challenge each other through bramiti to claim the possession of the females on other suitors. Those who succeed in intimidating the other deer with their sound will prevail. The strength and power of the roar depends on the size of the animal and its living conditions.
The struggles between the males are rare: in fact, before turning to arms the contenders challenge each other “by voice”. The powerful roar of the deer (a cross between a cow bellow and a roar) serves precisely to rivals to understand who they face: only when the vocal abilities are equal do males face each other in the open field, but also at this point, before fighting, they carry out a series of ritual behaviors, for example they start marching back and forth along parallel lines to observe the size of the horns and the strength of the opponent.
Then, in winter, the boxes are lost and the males retreat into the thick bush away from the females.
The period of reproduction is from mid-September to mid-October and gestation lasts 231-234 days. The female gives birth to a puppy that takes its first steps within two hours.
The fawn remains hidden in the thick of the bushes (where the mother reaches him only for feeding) for a couple of weeks, after which it is able to follow the group of other females with cubs in its movements: at two months the fawns are weaned , but they will not turn away from their mothers before having reached one year of age, that is when adult males will drive them away in order to mate with females. Although sexual maturity is reached by the deer in the second year of age, they are able to procreate only at the end of the third year.
Sexual maturity is around 12-16 months.
The Cervus elaphus has a longevity that in captivity exceeds even 20 years.
Ecological Role –
The red deer has dietary requirements that configure this animal as a typical opportunistic middle-type grazer or an animal that tends to be little selector in the choice of food but capable of changing its attitude both according to food availability and according to the metabolic needs of the different annual periods.
The search for food is usually carried out at night: in the spring the animals devour the fresh and tender herbs, the buds, the new leaves and the twigs. During the summer, instead, ripe wheat, oats, carrots and juicy beets are preferred. Winter is certainly the hardest season of the year for these animals, as the ground is covered with a blanket of snow, the soil no longer produces grass, and the branches no longer give leaves; the deer, then, feed on barks, dry shrubs and roots hollowed out with hooves.
The red deer can be preyed upon by many animals when it is at the puppy stage. Among these we remember: the brown bear, the lynx, the fox, the golden eagle, the eagle owl, the golden jackal and even the wild boar. His most feared predators (capable of killing even adults) are the wolf in Europe, the tiger in Russia and the leopard in North Africa.
Especially in the past the deer has been an important source of food for humans: already in the rock paintings dating back to the Paleolithic can in fact be found abundant depictions of these animals, usually as prey or as spiritual entities.
In Italy there are several farms mainly in Tuscany as in other regions of Italy, for example Trentino, Emilia-Romagna and Marche where a small group of deer and mouflon coexists near Osimo in the Santa Paolina park.
In Italy, it is hunted by means of the selection hunt, according to Law 157 of 11 February 1992 and which provides, in the event of transgression, arrest from 3 months to a year and a fine from 1,032 euros to 6,195 euro, as well as the revocation of the hunting license and the prohibition of its release for 10 years, a ban that becomes permanent in case of recurrence. The number of hunted specimens is established by each alpine hunting area through the drawing up of a sampling plan, established according to the regional laws and the provincial dispositions in force and on the basis of local censuses.
In Italy, the peninsular population of the deer, originally spread throughout the territory, began a slow and progressive decline starting from the seventeenth century.
This phenomenon was determined by the hunting pressure and the expansion of human settlements to the detriment of forest ecosystems, until there was only a poor relict population in the aforementioned Gran Bosco della Mesola, in addition to sporadic reports of small groups coming from Switzerland in the province of Sondrio: later on these migrations from across the border became more and more numerous and consistent, to the point that the species was successfully re-established throughout the central-eastern Alpine area and is also subject to authorized hunting, while as regards the others populations are individuals introduced from French and German populations during the sixties.
Today the population of the noble deer is growing (so as to have to do selective culling in certain cases) and future reintroduction campaigns are also expected in other areas suitable for hosting stable populations of these animals.
As far as the Sardinian-Corsican population is concerned, this disappeared from the northern part of Sardinia in the first years of the second post-war period: starting from the eighties, the various awareness campaigns of the population made it possible to increase the number of specimens and expand the range of the species , which today counts over 4,000 animals.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Gordon Corbet, Denys Ovenden, 2012. Guide to European mammals. Franco Muzzio Publisher.
– John Woodward, Kim Dennis-Bryan, 2018. The great encyclopedia of animals. Gribaudo Publisher.