Cervus nippon

Sika Deer - Cervus nippon

Family:
Deer (Artiodactyla Cervidae Cervinae)
Status:
Least Concern

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Taxonomic status

Scientific name

Cervus nippon

Common name

Sika Deer

Comments on the subspecies

Native and introduced populations are seriously threatened by genetic pollution;

  • numerous populations are of uncertain provenance or have mixed ancestry; 
  • the status of Cervus nippon hortulorum is particularly uncertain.

Reviewing the species' taxonomy concluded that four species are involved:

  1. Cervus nippon of southern Japan
  2. Cervus yesoensis of central and northern Japan
  3. Cervus taiouanus of Taiwan
  4. Cervus hortulorum of the mainland range

However, we consider all of these as subspecies of Cervus nippon, pending further information.

  • China
    • Cervus nippon mandarinus (North China Sika), considered extinct
    • Cervus nippon grassianus, (Shansi Sika), considered extinct
    • Cervus nippon sichuanicus (Sichuan Sika)
    • Cervus nippon kopschi, (South China or Kopschi Sika)
    • Cervus nippon aplodontus (North Honshu Sika)
  • Japan
    • Cervus nippon yesoensis (Hokkaido Sika)
    • Cervus nippon keramae (Ryukyu or Kerama Sika)
    • Cervus nippon pulchellus: Japan ? Tsushima Islands
  • Former USSR
    • Cervus nippon mantchuricus (Manchurian Sika)
  • Taiwan
    • Cervus nippon taiouanus (Formosan or Taiwan Sika)
  • Vietnam
    • Cervus nippon pseudaxis (Viet Namese or Tonkin Sika)

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Species information

Physical characteristics

Body Length 105-155 cm
Shoulder Height 65-110 cm
Tail Length 10-20 cm
Weight 25-110 kg


The colour of the coat ranges from grayish or chestnut brown to reddish olive, with the chin, belly, and throat being off-white. Some subspecies have a spattering of white spots on the upper sides, arranged in seven or eight lateral rows. These spots become less prominent in the winter as the coat grows shaggier, forming a dark mane on the neck, especially in males. On the rump, an erectile patch of light-coloured is used as a warning signal.

The antlers, grown only in males, are narrow and erect with 2-10 tines on each bar, measuring 28-81 cm in length.

Habitat, behaviour, food and reproduction

Habitat and Food

This species prefers woodlands and forest with dense understory, but forages in open grassy areas. The main diet includes grass, some browse, and even fruit.

Habitat and food preferences per subspecies and different countries
  • In Tiebu Nature Reserve, Sichuan, sika were reported to forage preferentially in small patches of subalpine shrub and subalpine brush mixed with forest.
  • Sika fed on a wide variety of plant species in Teibu.
  • In Viet Nam, diet of Cervus nippon pseudaxis was reported to included browse and fruits.
  • In Taiwan, Cervus nippon taiouanus inhabited open forests and grasslands of valley bottoms and foothills below 300 m. Cervus nippon mandarinus and Cervus nippon grassianus probably occurred in upland forests. Cervus nippon keramae favours lowland forests and plains.
  • In Viet Nam, Cervus nippon pseudaxis group size was 5-30 animals.
  • In China, Cervus nippon sichuanicus forms large aggregations during May-August.
  • In Viet Nam, Cervus nippon pseudaxis was thought to be primarily sedentary, although some seasonal movement took place depending on water availability.
  • In China, rut occurs during September-November. Fawning occurs in May-July following a 210-213 day gestation. Single fawns are the rule, but twins are sometimes observed among prime-aged females. Sexual maturity is reached at 1,5 years.

Reproduction and behaviour

The species is crepuscular, but sometimes active by day and night, and forages singly or in small herds, with dominant males with harems.

Seasonal movements in Japan have been recorded, with winter ranges being up to 700 m below the larger summer ranges.

Mating takes place in September and October, with most births occurring in May and June.

Sika deer are highly vocal, with over 10 individual sounds known, ranging from soft whistles to loud screams.

Gestation Period 210-223 days
Young per Birth 1, rarely 2
Weaning At 8-12 months
Sexual Maturity At 18-24 months
Life span Over 10 years (15-20?)


Home range

Non-territorial males utilize a home range of about 11,74 hectares. During the summer, certain males begin to establish territories, 2,7-7,7 hectares in size, averaging 4,76 hectares (in Nara Park, Honshu, only one fifth of mature males exhibited territorial behaviour). The boundaries of these ranges are marked with urine and thrashing of the ground, and fiercely defended from other males, often with serious fighting with antlers and hoofs. Within his territory, a male will round up a harem of up to 12 females with which to mate.

Predation

Wolves

Population size and trends

Global population

There are no global population estimates.

However, in summary, there is a large and growing population in Japan, and a stable population of 8,500-9,000 in Russia, but the species is in serious trouble in the rest of its range. There are probably fewer than 1,000 left in China, scattered in a few populations across a once vast range. It is extinct in South Korea, and probably extinct in North Korea and Viet Nam. It also became extinct on Taiwan, but has been re-introduced there.

China

Four subspecies of sika are present in mainland China of which three are threatened and one, Cervus nippon mandarinus, is probably extinct.

There are 400-500 Cervus nippon sichuanicus in the extreme north of Sichuan and in southern Gansu Province, as well in two other areas (Baxi and Beihe) of Sichuan.

Cervus nippon kopschi occurs as five isolated small populations:

  • in the Tianmu Mountains region of northern Zhejiang (less than 30 animals);
  • in southern Anhui (70-100);
  • near the border with Jiangsu, in Pengze, Jiangxi (150 animals);
  • in southern Guangxi; and possibly in northern Guangdong.

Cervus nippon grassianus occurred in two separate and declining populations in western Shanxi but has not been reported for some years and may now be extinct. The total number in China was estimated to be no more than 1,000 animals, with populations fragments.

Sika are believed to be declining in all of their remaining range within China, although analyses of survival of Cervus nippon sichuanicus in Tiebu Nature Reserve during the late 1980's suggest a possible reversal of that trend.

Korea

Sika was reportedly common and widespread in north and central Korea but declined severely during the Japanese occupation of the country. After liberation it proved impossible to rebuild populations naturally from the surviving dispersed animals in Hamgyong North province, so the DPRK government initiated a captive breeding programme. The genetic purity of these animals is unclear as is their relationship to the sika held captive in DPRK nowadays. Sika is either very rare or extinct as a wild animal in DPR Korea. If it survives in DPR Korea, it will be in the extreme northeastern part of the country. It no longer survives in the wild in South Korea, including on Cheju Island.

Japan

The species survives near heavily populated areas of Honshu, and their populations had been severely fragmented and reduced due to human activities. However, the sika deer population has been conspicuously increasing throughout Japan in recent years as hunting has been brought under control.

On Hokkaido, for example, sika have increased greatly during the last decades of the 20th century and the early 21st century, and are now considered an agricultural and forest-plantation pest. Experimental hunting of males began in the 1950's, culling of females in the 1980's and hunting of females in the 1990's. Cervus nippon keramae was introduced to the Kerama Islands from the Japanese mainland during the 17th century, and is reported to have subsequently developed as an insular form.

Russia

There are 8,500-9,000 sika deer in Russia, and the population is stable.

Taiwan

Cervus nippon taiouanus is endemic to Taiwan. It was extirpated by 1969 and re-introduced to Kenting National Park in 1988.

Viet Nam

The species may now be extinct in the wild in this country. In 1990, two to four animals were reported from the western Nghe Tinh Mountains, but it is highly doubtful that they survive there. Captive populations are present in Cuc Phuong National Park and Cat Ba National Park.

AreaNumbersDevelopment
World?Decreasing
Japan?Increasing
Russia8,500-9,000Stable
China1,000Decreasing
South Korea-Extinct
North Korea?Probably extinct
Viet Nam?Probably extinct
Taiwan?Re-introduced after extinction
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Distribution: maps, historical and current

Countries

Landscapes

Interactive map

Cervus nippon - Sika Deer: current distribution
Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


View Sika deer - current distribution in a larger map

Further map information

Sike Deer - current distribution
Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Range map Sika Deer 

Historical distribution

The sika was distributed across east Asia, from central China in the west to Japan and Korea in the east, and from the extreme eastern tip of Russia in the north to southern China and Viet Nam.

Specifically, it was originally found in China (formerly from Manchuria south to Guangxi, and Sichuan to Anhui), North and South Korea (including Cheju Island) (but now probably extinct in both countries), Japan, Russia (a few places in Primorsky in the Far East), Taiwan (extinct in 1969, but subsequently re-introduced), and Viet Nam (probably now extinct).

Current distribution

Japan

In Japan, the species ranges widely from:

  • Hokkaido
  • Honshu
  • Shikoku and Kyushu islands in the Seto Inland Sea (Awaji, Shodo, and others)
  • Goto Islands
  • Ika, Yakushima
  • Mageshima
  • Kuchinoerabu-shima
  • Tsushima
  • Kerama Islands (introduced) (Okinawa Prefecture)

China

Wild populations are now very localized in China.

  • Cervus nipon mandarinus probably ranged across much of northeastern China, but by the mid-1930s its range had contracted to northeastern Jilin, and is now believed to be extinct.
  • Cervus nipon grassianus ranged throughout western Shanxi Province, China, and is now believed to be extinct.
  • Cervus nipon kopschi ranged from the Yangtze River Basin eastward to the coast, and south as far as northern Guangdong Province; it remains in small numbers in southern China.
  • Cervus elaphus taiouanus was widely distributed throughout Taiwan. Free ranging populations were extirpated in 1969, but captive individuals were re-introduced in 1989.
  • Cervus nipon pseudaxis was recorded from Cao Bang, Quang Ninh, Thanh Hoa, Hanoi, and Nghe Tinh provinces in Viet Nam, but is probably now extinct in the wild (captive animals remain).

Introductions

The species has been widely introduced.

In the Philippines it was anciently introduced to Solo Island, with questions remaining as to its continued existence there.

17th century
It was introduced in 17th century to Kerama Islands (Ryukyu Islands, Japan);

19th- 20th century
Cervus nippon was introduced to:

  • British Isles
  • mainland Europe
    • Armenia
    • Austria
    • Azerbaijan
    • Czech Republic
    • Denmark
    • Finland
    • France
    • Germany
    • Lithuania
    • Poland
  • western Russia
  • Ukraine
  • New Zealand
  • United States
  • small islands of Japan
  • Madagascar
  • Philippines

It is also widely farmed in Asia, particularly in China. Only the native, extant range is included in the IUCN distribution map.

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Threats

Habitat loss and hunting

This species is threatened by habitat loss and hunting, particularly in Viet Nam, China, and the Koreas.

The species is increasing in Japan (where it is hunted and culled to reduce crop and forest depredation), and stable in Russia and probably Taiwan.

All subspecies of sika have been hunted widely in China during the past 100 years and in Korea.

Traditional medicine

The subspecies in Viet Nam (Cervus nippon pseudaxi) and Taiwan (Cervus nippon taiouanus) were hunted for meat and antler velvet for use in traditional medicine. In Viet Nam, velvet from Cervus nippon is traded in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

 

Hybridisation

In Japan, red deer farming used to be very popular, but now animals are being released into the wild raising the risk of hybridisation in the wild with Cervus nippon. Native and introduced populations are threatened by hybridization, with numerous populations are of uncertain provenance or have mixed ancestry.

Habitat loss and Loss of genetic diversity

In China, in addition to continued loss of habitat, loss of genetic diversity through anthropogenic population subdivision is also a conservation concern.

Extirpated

  • Cervus nippon pseudaxis in Viet Nam, and 
  • Cervus nippon mandarinus and
  • Cervus nippon taiouanus in China, were probably extirpated in the wild as a result of hunting and habitat conversion for agriculture.

Subspecies

The small captive population of Cervus nippon pseudaxis in Cuc Phuong National Park is presently threatened by poaching.

In China, Cervus elaphus sichuanicus is threatened by poaching outside Tiebu Nature Reserve, and by encroachment on their habitats (including by deer farms).

In Japan, Cervus nippon keramae has been almost extirpated by hunting, and remains only on unoccupied islets where competition with feral goats and habitat change constitute serious threats. Water pollution is a serious problem for the deer.

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Conservation information

IUCN Red List

Least Concern: ver 3.1

EU habitat directive

-

CITES

-

EU Wildlife trade regulation EC Reg. 338/97

-

Bern convention

-

Bonn convention

-

Conservation status

The species is heavily depleted in the wild in China, and two of the Chinese subspecies may be extinct (mandarinus, grassianus), and others are threatened. However, large herds exist in captivity in China to meet the demand for velvet antlers used in traditional Asian medicine.

Protected area's

The species occurs in a number of protected areas, including:

  • Cervus nippon sichuanicus in China's Tiebu Nature Reserve, and Baihe Nature Reserve;
  • Cervus nippon kopschi in China's Taohonglin Nature Reserve;
  • Cervus nippon hortulorum in Russia's Dalnevostochny Morskoy, Kedrovaya Pad, Khankaisky, Lazovsky, and Sikhote-Alinsky Nature Reserves; and
  • Cervus nippon taiouanus in Taiwan's Kenting National Park, as a result of The Formosan Deer Restoration Project was initiated in 1984 to re-establish subspecies.
  • Management activities for Cervus nippon keramae have included filling of mine shafts, which posed threats to the deer, as well as the construction of drinking water facilities.

Conservation actions on the subspecies

Cervus nippon pseudaxis

The Viet Namese Sika Breeding and Conservation Program was initiated in 1991 with a shipment of ten animals to Europe on breeding loan.

  1. Improve protection of Cuc Phuong National Park, with particular emphasis on control of poaching and development of a conservation education program.

Cervus nippon taiouanus

  1. Establish a peripheral hunting zone around Kenting National Park to benefit local people, and to minimize impact of deer encroaching into adjacent agricultural land.
  2. Expand the area available to the existing free ranging population.
  3. Plan, implement, and develop a fully integrated research program focused on the ecology of the free ranging population. Studies should include impact on vegetation and carrying capacity.
  4. Develop a long-term strategy for management of Kenting National Park.
  5. Plan the establishment of additional free-ranging populations elsewhere in Taiwan.

Cervus nippon keramae

  1. Survey status of present populations and undertake studies of existing habitat to determine extent of habitat degradation. Remove feral goats as an urgent priority.
  2. Develop a management plan for habitat restoration.
  3. Develop a captive breeding program using animals from surviving populations. Assess possible genetic differences between island populations.
  4. Assess attitudes of local people toward conservation, initiate regional conservation education program, and increase law enforcement if necessary.

Cervus nippon mandarinus and Cervus nippon grassianus

  1. Carry out surveys to determine whether or not these two subspecies survive. If populations can be found, activities should include field reconnaissance, population censuses, demographic surveys, ecological studies, and investigations into human use of the deer.

Cervus nippon kopschi

  1. Secure protected habitat, and encourage community development options to mitigate threats, especially poaching.

Cervus nippon sichuanicus

  1. Implement management plans in Tiebu and Baihe Nature Reserves, with a particular focus on combatting poaching. In 1990, the management plan for Tiebu was being implemented and protection was adequate.

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Library

Presentations

Reports

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Experts and scientific referees

IUCN SSC

For more detailed information view the 'Sika Deer - Cervus nippon' page on to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

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All comments on Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)

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