Extinct in the Wild, Pere David’s Deer Continue to Thrive at the OKC Zoo

On a five-acre habitat covered by native grasses and historical post oak trees, Oklahoma City Zoo guests exploring the park’s northwest corner will find three Pere David’s deer: Daphne, 16, Kate, 5, and Pippa, 5. They spend their days soaking up the sun and chowing down on wild grasses, leaves of bushes, and reeds.

Of the 1184 species at the Zoo, Pere David’s is the only one with the disheartening distinction of being labelled “Extinct in the Wild” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). After years of habitat loss and over-hunting, there are no known free-ranging populations of Pere David’s left and the species only exists under human care.

However, the situation is not as dire for as the label makes it seem. Pere David’s deer has recovered from the brink of extinction and has become a classic example of how to rescue a highly threatened species, according to the IUCN.

Pere David’s deer were native to wetland regions of southern China and considered a national emblem and source of pride. The IUCN reports that a large herd was protected in the Emperor’s garden. In 1895, a surrounding wall was destroyed by a heavy flood and most of the deer escaped and were hunted. Only 20-30 animals remained in the garden until the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when the garden was occupied by troops and the remaining deer were hunted. During the first decade of the 20th century, the Duke of Bedford in the United Kingdom gathered the last 18 Pere David’s deer in the world to form a breeding herd at the Woburn Abbey Estate, England. The Zoo’s Kate and Pippa were named to commemorate the species’ British ties.

The species is named for French missionary Pere (Father in French) Armand David, who was among the first Westerners to study the species and bring it to the attention of European audiences in the 1860s. His critical work, which many attribute to saving the species from oblivion, is chronicled here.

The Zoo's Asian deer yard is home to two other species of deer: tufted deer and Indian hog deer.

-Lisbeth Pisias, hoofstock caretaker

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