The Persian fallow deer, also known as the Mesopotamian fallow deer, has been hunted down for centuries, for food and in the name of sport. In the 1940s, by which time firearms had become far more widespread and poaching had increased dramatically, the species was thought to have finally become extinct. A species once prolific throughout the Middle East had finally been lost to guns and knives. But, good things do happen, and in 1956 two small, wild populations (twenty-five individuals in all) were discovered in Iran. Clearly not yet extinct, the Persian fallow deer instantly became one of rarest mammals on earth.
This astonishingly pretty little deer has a short, smooth reddish-brown to sandy-coloured coat covered with bold, white spots. The muzzle, chin, neck and undersides are a creamy white.
The male of the species has long, thick flattened antlers. Their horns grow after their first year. By the second year, the antlers will have shown. Antlers are shed annually, but grow back immediately. The antlers are covered with ‘velvet’, protecting them during growth. By the end of the summer, the bucks emerge resplendent with full antlers again. Each year, the buck’s antlers grow a little larger. This continues until their eighth year, when they will be fully mature.
The Persian fallow deer is the largest of all the fallow deer. Adult bucks typically weigh about two hundred pounds. They average five feet in length and can reach a height of three feet. Does are slightly smaller.
Fallow deer are herd animals. Mating occurs during the rut. Males fight during this time, but mostly without injury; they follow a sort of Marquis of Queensbury rules system, and they all stick to it. Each herd has a dominant buck. The rut takes place during August and early September. Calving follows at the end of March to early April, after a gestation period of two hundred and thirty days. One fawn will usually be born and twins are very rare.
Persian fallow deer are excellent swimmers. When sensing danger, they are fast to escape and can leap up to two metres if necessary. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help if someone is pointing a gun at you.
Woodlands, such as tamarisk and pistachio, and dense riparian thickets.
Iran and Israel (where it has been re-introduced)
What they eat
Grass, leaves and nuts.
The species’ most dangerous predator is man. Humans have been mercilessly killing fallow deer (for venison) for a very long time and, no doubt, the skins have also been made use of. Habitat destruction has played its part, as has grazing competition with livestock and natural predators, such as the jackal, hyena and Syrian brown bear. As numbers have dwindled, they have become susceptible to inbreeding as well.
The Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) is listed on the IUCN List of Threatened Species as Endangered. They are listed on Appendix 1 of CITES. Sadly, although it is now illegal to hunt the Persian fallow deer, poaching continues. Some are bred in captivity (in Germany, Iran, and Israel) and, by all accounts, there has been a good success rate in these projects. The remaining natural members of the species can only be found in south-western Iran. Re-introduced populations exist in other locations in Iran and in Israel. All stem from the native population.
“There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is”
Isaac Bashevis Singer