The red deer is one of the native wild animals in Ireland. The red deer roamed freely in large numbers across the country during the ancient days. The clearance of forests across Ireland in the 18th century fuelled the decrease of the red deer by an unparalleled margin. However, the numbers increased in the 19th century due to protection measures adopted by the national parks in the country and translocations from other countries. The Irish government and the wildlife service have taken steps to protect this unique species. Hunting has been illegalized in some parts while in others a license is required before any hunting expedition. The red deer spends most of the time feeding and it has the ability of maintaining fat reserves to use during the winter season when there is scarcity of food. However, this species is facing extinction due to a variety of reasons that will be discussed in this essay.
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The scientific name for red deer is “Cervus elaphus in Phylum – Chordata, Class – Mammalia, Order – Artiodactyla, Family – Cervidae, Genus – Odocoileus, and Species – virginianus” (McDevitt et al. 266).
The red deer as the name suggests has a red coat on the skin. A stag weighs about 190kgs while a mature female deer weighs about 110kgs (Lowe and Gardiner 556). The color of the red deer depends on the season. During the summer season, the deer is reddish brown in color. The red color vanishes during the winter season and it is replaced by a brownish color. Fully-grown stags are 1.5m in height and they are about 2m in length (McDevitt et al. 266).
On the other hand, females are smaller as compared to males with a mature female being 1m in height and 1.5m in length. Both the male and the female deer have a short thick tail. The young calves too are red in color, but they have brown spots on the skin and they weigh about 15kgs (Stokes, O’Neill, and McDonald 335). However, the brown spots disappear during the summer, which gives them reddish color. The males have big antlers that distinguish them from their female counterparts. The antlers are shed once in a year and new ones develop. The antlers are used to keep off predators and for personal defense.
Red deer is herbivorous and it is known to graze all year round (Lowe and Gardiner 556). The animals live in herds depending on the habitat. Red deer form large herds in open country and small groups in woodland areas (Stokes, O’Neill, and McDonald 345). They mostly feed on grass, trees, mosses, lichens, and other plantations. The antlers develop during spring and they go away during early spring the following year in preparation for the growth of new ones during the same period. The antlers vary in size depending on the animal’s health and diet. The red deer feed on twigs, grass, fruits and other vegetation (McDevitt et al. 268). During winter when there is scarcity of food, the red deer will feed on the bark of trees. During this period, the red deer alters its metabolism so that the fat stored can be used by the body, thus reducing food requirement
Social organization and communication
The red deer communicate in different ways by means of sounds, scent, and other body movements (Stokes, O’Neill, and McDonald 445). The type of communication used depends on the situation. Calves produce high-pitched sounds in times of danger to attract the attention of their mothers (Lowe and Gardiner 555). The mothers too produce a unique sound while summoning the calves. Communication is most common during the mating season. The stags produce deep-throated roar to send signals to other stags that a certain male controls a given territory (McDevitt et al. 270).
In addition to the roars, the male deer marks its territory with a scented gland that signifies its control over the territory. Therefore, other stags avoid the territory after getting the scent, which leaves the dominant stag to control the marked territory. The roaring also serves the purpose of keeping the herds together. Allegedly, females are attracted to males that produce the sound more often and the louder the roar is, the more the females are attracted (Stokes, O’Neill, and McDonald 355). The females too produce a sound during the breeding period before they adapt to a new environment.
The red deer form groups according to age and gender (McDevitt et al. 272). Hinds form their own groups while stags form theirs on the other side and the two groups only meet during mating in October. In most cases, the female herds are composed of 10 females, but in some cases, the herds merge especially in winter when the food is in limited supply. On the other hand, stags form a single group regardless of age. They remain as such all year round until October when the breeding season starts. In rare situations, the stags form temporal groups, but they later merge to form one group.
Mating, reproductive cycle and mortality rate of fawns
The month of October marks the breeding season for the red deer. A female deer is ready for reproduction at the age of 18 months (McDevitt et al. 269). During this period, mature stags meet with mature hinds and in most cases, each stag struggles to form and control a territory. Each stag brings together a group of hinds and endeavors to protect them from other males waiting for the mating season (Lowe and Gardiner 557).
On attaining the required herd, the stag marks a certain territory and controls it to avoid invasion by other stags. In most cases, the group is comprised of 5 sexually fit hinds. Mating occurs in early weeks of October (Stokes, O’Neill and McDonald 342). Heat recurs after a period of 21 days in case the female deer does not get pregnant at the first mating. Controlling a territory involves engaging in fights with other stags and the winner of the war controls the territory in question. The fights are dangerous and at times, they result in injuries among the contesting stags. In a bid to hide “evidence of birth and keep the fawns secure, the female deer eat the placenta” (McDevitt et al. 269).
Pregnancy lasts for 33 weeks and in most cases, females give birth in June. The females leave the rest of the herd and hide during the process of giving birth. The fawns may suckle until the mother gives birth again. The fawns are protected under the watch of their mothers for a period of about 8 months after which they are left to graze on themselves. The survival rate of the fawns is about 90% in normal circumstances (Lowe and Gardiner 553). Female carves usually remain in the areas they were born until maturity while the male calves congregate with other males. At the age of six months, the male deer develops antlers, which are tender and fragile, and thus they can break if not well handled. The young males have no place in the mating due to dominance of old and energetic males that outsmart the former in the fight for territorial control. Research indicates that hinds lives longer as compared to their male counterparts.
The red deer are found in the islands of Torc, Cores and Mangerton mountains, and in the Killarney Park located in the lower parts of the country (McDevitt et al. 263). Other flocks are found in the Glendalough dell and Turlough Hill in Co. Wicklow. In addition to the aforementioned areas, wild herds are also found in Glenveagh, Co. Donegal, Connemara, Co Galway and areas of Co Mayo (McDevitt et al. 264). These herds are not indigenous as they were imported from Scotland in the 1990s to help in increasing the population of the red deer.
Threats – why are they endangered?
The extinction of the red deer is escalating due to interbreeding between the red deer and other species, which produce completely different species of deer. Sika deer has been identified as one of the species that have posed great threat to the survival of the red deer (Stokes, O’Neill, and McDonald 365).
In addition to the interbreeding, red deer is known for its delicious meat. Red deer’s meat dominated the markets in most parts of the world especially in Europe until new laws were imposed requiring butchers to obtain licenses from the wildlife service in order to sell the meat. This aspect is probably the major reason why the red deer is going to extinction. In addition to its meat, the deer produces antlers, which are used for decoration purposes (McDevitt et al. 266). The two products provide incentives to poachers to hunt and kill the animal in order to enjoy the huge profits earned from their sale.
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In a bid to protect the already endangered group of animals, the government has come up with legislation requiring any person hunting the red deer to obtain a license from the wild life service. In Kerry Park, poaching is illegal and anyone caught hunting the animal is subjected to high penalties (Lowe and Gardiner 553). In some game parks, interbreeding of the red deer with other species has been controlled to avoid the impeding replacement of the animal with other species.
The red deer is one of the endangered species in Ireland. The animal is herbivorous and it feeds on grass and other vegetation. It is found in Torc, Cores, and Mangerton mountains. They live in groups according to age and sex. The stags live individually or in isolated groups, but the females form small different groups depending on age. The rain deer extinction is caused by the view that the animal was initially a target of poachers due to its delicious meat and antlers used in arts. Additionally, the red deer has the ability to interbreed with other deer species. This interbreeding results in completely different deer species leading to loss of the original characteristics of the species. However, the Irish government in partnership with the country’s wildlife service has restricted the hunting and sale of the red deer’s meat in order to protect the animal from the threat of extinction.
Lowe, Pat, and Andrew Gardiner. “Hybridization between red deer (Cervus elaphus) and sika deer (Cervus nippon) with particular reference to stocks in NW England.” Journal of Zoology 177.4 (1975): 553-566. Print.
McDevitt, Allan, Ceiridwen Edwards, Peter O’Tooled, Padruig O’Sullivand, Catherine O’Reillya, and Ruth Cardene. “Genetic structure of, and hybridization between, red (Cervus elaphus) and sika (Cervus nippon) deer in Ireland.” Mammalian Biology 74.4 (2009): 263-273. Print.
Stokes, Kate, Kate O’Neill, and Robbie McDonald. Invasive species in Ireland, Belfast: Environment and Heritage Service, 2006. Print.