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Tuatara: Volume 14, Issue 2, July 1966

Introduced Ungulates in New Zealand — (d) Fallow Deer

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Introduced Ungulates in New Zealand
(d) Fallow Deer

Fallow Deer (Dama dama L.)

FallowDeer are one of the most attractive of the deer family and were among the first of the eight species of deer that have been successfully introduced to New Zealand. Although several liberations were made, fallow deer have not become widespread but remain restricted to areas near where they were liberated. Introduced for sporting purposes, the bucks were eagerly hunted when fallow deer became established. Despite the hunting pressures, in most cases the herds built up in numbers and all protection of them ceased in 1925.

Systematic Description

Fallow deer belong to the genus Dama Frisch, 1775, which is placed in the Order Artiodactyla, Family Cervidae, Sub-Family Cervinae. The peculiar shape of antlers is the basis for placing fellow deer in a genus district from Cervus. There are 2 species in the genus Dama; D. dama L., 1758 (Fallow deer) and D. mesopotamica Brooke, 1875 (Persian fallow deer). Dama mesopotamica is given specific rank because of its greater size, difference in shape of antlers, and more particularly in the shape of the nasal bones which are broader across the proximal ends (Ellerman and Morrison-Scott, 1951). Dama mesopotamica is probably extinct now although there may be a few in captivity (Walker, 1964). The range of D. mesopotamica formerly extended to Palestine where it could have come into contact with D. dama.


The adult male (called a buck, Vesey-Fitzgerald, 1946) stands between 35-37 inches at the shoulder, with the female (doe) averaging a few inches less. The weight of an average buck is between 170 and 180 lb, with large animals up to 240 lb (Southern, 1964). Body length is between 65 and 75 inches (Fig. 1.)

There are many colour varieties, but they may be divided into 3 main types: (1) Dark grey, often appearing to be true black,

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(2) Mottled with prominent white spots on a fawn background, and (3) Pure white, de Nahlik (1959) states that the white fallow deer are all of park blood; the spotted form comes from South European imported stock, and the dark grey represents the wild variety. The most common summer coat for fallow deer in New Zealand is a deep fawn with conspicous white spots on the flanks, and a black or dark grey brown ridge of hair along the centre of the back and tail. The winter coat is a greyish-fawn with the spots far less prominent. Fawns are very heavily spotted.

As with most other members of the Cervidae, antlers are carried only by the males. Antlers appear in the second year and are fully developed by the sixth; they are flattened but have a cylindrical stem, usually with no bez tines and palmated above the trez. The length of full-grown antlers averages between 25 and 31 inches (exceptionally up to 36 inches), with a circumference of 4 to 6 inches. Distance between the tips is 15 to 20 inches (exceptionally 28 inches). The palmation of a trophy head should be as solid as possible with a number of tines along the posterior edge. The palm should be concave and spoonlike, bulging outwards (de Nahlik, 1959). Antlers are cast in November-December (in New Zealand), regrown by February, and are clear of velvet by the end of February. The age of a fallow deer is usually judged on the size and shape of the antlers.

Fig. 1. Fallow deer buck, Nelson. N.Z. Forest Service photo by J. H. Johns, A.R.P.S.

Fig. 1. Fallow deer buck, Nelson. N.Z. Forest Service photo by J. H. Johns, A.R.P.S.

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Vesey-Fitzgerald (1946) states that fallow deer have as good a power of scent and hearing as red deer but far better eyesight. This will be confirmed by anyone who has stalked both fallow and red deer. Fallow deer are usually silent except for a bark-like call used when alarmed; a rutting call which is a mixture of a grunt and a bark and does not carry very far; and a whining bleat used occasionally by does and fawns.

The gait of the fallow deer is characteristic, appearing stilted or jerky. They run by jumping on all fours. Even when undisturbed they are able to jump 6-foot obstructions and when pressed can clear 7-foot obstacles with ease.


The original home of fallow deer is around the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and Asia Minor (Ellerman and Morrison-Scott, 1951), but they have been widely introduced to other European countries and are now found wild throughout Western Europe and the Baltic States. Ellerman and Morrison-Scott (1951) also state that introductions were made in North Africa but it is doubtful if they survived. The present distribution in Asia Minor is not clear. Southern (1964) concludes that the evidence for fallow deer being indigenous in the British Isles is doubtful, but they have been present there for some time, as it is recorded in the Doomsday Book that they were well established. Ingersoll (1906) states that fallow deer were taken to the British Isles probably by the Roman colonists. Some herds still live wild in parts of England, and herds resulting from park escapes are common in most of the woodland areas; they appear to be less common in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Fallow deer were liberated in Tasmania, from England, about 1850 (Bently, 1957) and are now well established. Small herds are also present in other Australian States. Distribution in New Zealand is shown in the accompanying map (Fig 2) and is discussed further below.

Introduction to New Zealand

The first fallow deer introduced to New Zealand came from Richmond Park. Surrey, and were liberated in 1864, in the Aniseed Valley a few miles from Nelson (Donne. 1924). Twenty-five known page 85
Fig. 2. Map showing distribution of fallow deer in New Zealand (prepared from information provided by the N.Z. Forest Service.)

Fig. 2. Map showing distribution of fallow deer in New Zealand (prepared from information provided by the N.Z. Forest Service.)

page 86 liberations were subsequently made involving over 60 fallow deer; all liberations were at least partially successful except Kapiti Island.

The following notes indicate briefly the present status of the herds.

Wairoa River (North Auckland) — This herd is probably on the borderline of extinction with only a few old footprints at present evident.

Great Barrier (Selwyn Island) — The status of this herd is not known but only a few animals, if any, now exist there.

Puriri (Coromandel Peninsula) — The numbers of fallow deer are very low.

Kawau Island — Only a very light population present.

Kaipara — Stable population, present in moderate numbers.

Manakau Heads — Probably not more than a dozen fallow deer exist in this herd at present.

Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands — Only very few deer now present.

Matamata — Light to moderate population present.

Wanganui — This herd is thriving and is probably extending its range.

Mt. Arthur (Nelson) — Moderate, stable population.

Aniseed Valley (Nelson) — Light, stable population.

Paparoa Range (Westland) — Light, stable population.

Opihi River (South Canterbury) — Light, stable population.

Blue Mountains (Otago) — one of the most extensive herds in New Zealand and has been subject to control measures when some 6,000 fallow deer were killed by Government operations in 1961-62.

Wakatipu — Moderate population, and increasing its range.

It is noticeable that fallow deer have colonised only the country close to the point of original liberation and thus appear as discrete populations — Caughley (1963) gives a mean rate of dispersal for fallow deer as 0.5 miles per year.

Social Characteristics

Fallow deer kept in deer parks are gregarious, but in the wild are less so than red deer. The herds are rarely large, except locally in late winter or spring (Vesey-Fitzgerald, 1946). They prefer extensive deciduous or mixed woodlands, preferably with a thick herb and shrub layer (Southern, 1964). During daylight fallow deer remain in the cover of the forest and their feeding is usually confined to dusk and dawn, although where undisturbed they may become more diurnal, especially in winter.

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Sexes keep together from the beginning of the rut (April) until early spring; the remainder of the period they usually separate. In New Zealand the rut begins in late April and generally is of short duration (i.e. when compared to that of red deer). As with red deer, frosty nights and clear days result in earlier rutting, while warm weather delays the rut. Whitehead (1950) points out that a definite order of precedence exists among the bucks. Dispositional behaviour changes with age, with young fallow bucks alert and timid while old bucks become more sullen and moody. At times fallow bucks are aggressively pugnacious and are able to cause extensive injury to one another.

Fawns are born in December after a gestation period of 230 days (Ashdell, 1946). They can run within an hour or so of birth and are able to jump well when only a few hours old. Usually only one fawn is born, rarely two (triplets have been known, [Donne 1924]).

Parasites and Diseases

Disease is unknown in New Zealand fallow deer, but in a recent study by one of the present authors (Andrews, MS) three nematode parasites were recorded from this host. These worms were: Apteragia quadrispiculata and Spiculopteragia asymmetrica from the abomasum; and Oesophagostomum venulosum from the caecum. Sweatman and Williams (1962) found cysts of the dog tapeworm, Taenia hydatigena, in New Zealand fallow deer.

Management and Economic Value

When first liberated fallow deer were protected, but from 1890 onwards could be shot by licensed stalkers. This control was not always effective and at times Acclimatization Societies found it necessary to destroy considerable numbers. From 1923 to 1930 fallow deer were declared vermin by various Acclimatization Societies, and in 1930 the Government completely removed protection from all deer. At present fallow deer are declared ‘noxious animals’ by the Noxious Animals Act, 1956 which is administered by the New Zealand Forest Service. This Act makes provision for the control and eradication of harmful species, including fallow deer.

Fallow deer are able to build up to very high numbers in some areas, e.g. Blue Mountains (Otago) where 6,000 were killed in 2 years on a 20,000 acre block (unpub. report N.Z. Forest Service). Fortunately, although fallow do cause severe damage to the vegetation, they do not occupy high altitude forest and alpine grassland where the erosion risk is most severe. The total number of fallow deer killed each year, by either government employed hunters or private hunters, is not known.

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Fallow deer have no commercial value in New Zealand. Bucks are hunted for their heads. The meat is palatable though not especially prized by hunters.


The Authors wish to thank the members of the Division of Protection Forestry, New Zealand Forest Service, for their continued help.


Asdell, S. A., 1946. Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction. New York. Comstock Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 437 pp.

Bently, Arthur, 1957. A brief account of the deer in Australia. J. Wildl. Mgmt., 21 (2), 221-225.

Caughley, G., 1963 Dispersal Rates of Several Ungulates introduced into New Zealand. Nature, Vol 200 (4903); 280-281.

de Nahlik, A. J., 1959. Deer. Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 240 pp.

Donne, T. E., 1924. The Game Animals of New Zealand. John Murray, London, 322 pp.

Ellerman, J. R., and Morrison-Scott, T.C.S., 1951. Checklist of Palaeatctic and Indian Mammals. British Museum (Natural History), London, 810 pp.

Ingersoll, E., 1906. The Life of Annimals. The Mammals. The Macmillan Co., London, 555 pp.

Southern, H. N., 1964. The Handbook of British Mammals. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, 465 pp.

Sweetman, G. K. and Williams, R. J., 1962. Wild Animals in New Zealand as Hosts of Echinoccocus granalosus and other Taeniid Tapeworms. Trans. R. Soc. N.Z., 2 (26), 221-250.

Vesey-Fitzgerald, B., 1946. British Game. Collins, London, 240 pp.

Walker, E. P., 1964. Mammals of the world. Vols. I and II. The John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1500 pp.

Whitehead, G. Kenneth, 1950. Deer and their Management in the Deer Parks of Great Britain and Ireland. Country Life Ltd., London, 370 pp.

* New Zealand Forest Service, Wellington.

Zoology Department, Victoria University of Wellington.