Invasive and Introduced Pests - The Muntjac Deer
The Muntjac deer is an ancient deer, which has probably feeding predators since 35 million years ago. Remains of the deer from the Miocene period have been found in Poland, Germany and France. The muntjac is also called the Mastreani or the 'barking' deer because of its loud bark. It may bark for 20 minutes or more if attempting to find a mate nearby. It is native to south-east Asia but was introduced into Great Britain in 1900.
There are 12 recognised species and of interest to scientists is the fact that the Indian muntjac has the lowest recorded number of chromosomes for any mammal. The species that has made itself at home in Britain is Muntiacus reevesi or 'Reeves muntjac'.
The muntjac is native to south Asia from Sri Lanka to southern China, through Taiwan, Japan, India and Indonesia. They are also found in the eastern Himalayas and Burma. Although inhabiting tropical regions in these areas, they are just at home in more temperate climates.
In Britain, the muntjac lives in coniferous and deciduous forests. They prefer dense woodlands but can be found (or at least their hoofprints can be found) on farms, in large gardens and even in village locations. They are experts at seclusion and spend long periods of time resting in sheltered areas of rushes or long grass. Often the only indication of their presence are the tiny slot marks left in soft ground by their hooves where they've passed by silently and undetected.
Because the haunches are higher than the shoulders, the overall appearance is of a hunched animal. The muntjac is only about 20 inches tall. Bucks are slightly larger than does.
It sports a summer and a winter coat. In summer the coat is a warm brown with no spots. White markings are found on the chin, throat, neck and tail. In winter the coat is grey-brown. A white rump patch under the tail is only visible when the tail is raised which happens when the deer is alarmed.
Small, spiky antlers come from the top of the head and may reach up to 10cm in length. The antlers regrow. The canines or 'eye' teeth are elongated and look like small tusks in the bucks as they protrude from the upper lip. These are more likely to be used than the antlers when fighting for territorial rights.
Under the eyes, are large, dark, glandular pits which are shaped something like a comma. These are only found on muntjac deer.
The muntjac is furtive and canny. They are mostly solitary in nature but are sometimes seen in pairs. The does have larger territories than the bucks. The territories of the does overlap with each other and with a few of the bucks' territories.
Apart from their bark, muntjac does and juveniles 'squeak' to each other and all sexes scream somewhat like a fox when alarmed.
Although small, the sharp antlers and tusks can, and do, inflict quite serious damage to would-be predators and/or those trying to assist a wounded muntjac. Brave to a fault, they are very protective of their young.
There is no breeding season and fawns can be dropped at any time of the year. The gestation period is seven months and a single fawn is born. Within a few days, the mother is ready to breed again. By six months of age, the fawn is independent of its mother.
The muntjac is regarded as an introduced pest in England. The deer was introduced from China into Woburn Park, Bedfordshire by the Duke of Bedford in 1900. Escapees and deliberate releases have led to the muntjac spreading over much of the south of England and into Wales. There are also a few pockets now in northern England and northern Ireland.
The muntjac is now on the 'most-wanted' list of foreign pests that have invaded Britain. It has been labelled Britain's most dangerous and destructive deer. Much like the cane toad in Australia, it seems that it will be impossible to halt its progress through the countryside unless there is some major breakthrough in controlling its numbers.
Muntjacs devour masses of native vegetation, destroy wildlife habitats and breed like rabbits. However, the damage done by the introduced grey squirrel is far worse than that done by the muntjac.