Wild deer

Deer Family Cervidae

There are six species of deer in Australia; fallow (Cervus [Dama] dama), red or wapiti (Cervus elaphus); hog (Cervus [Axis] porcinus); chital, axis or spotted deer (Cervus [Axis] axis); Timor or rusa (Cervus timorensis) and sambar (Cervus unicolor). In addition to wapiti, fallow, sambar and rusa deer, white-tailed (Odocoileus virginianus) and sika (Cervus nippon) are also established in New Zealand. All were introduced as game animals by Europeans soon after settlement. Only two species will be covered in detail: red or wapiti and fallow deer.

Red, wapiti or elk (Cervus elaphus)


The natural distribution of red deer is the Palaearctic region from northern Britain to Manchuria and from south of the Arctic Circle to the Himalayas and North Africa. They favour mixed grassland, woodland and rainforest associations. Free-ranging herds are common through most of New Zealand where there is bush and on scrub areas of large farms. In Australia, red deer are moderately common in the headwaters of the Brisbane River in Queensland and in the Grampian Ranges of Victoria. There are large areas of suitable habitat that they could occupy in Australia including the south-west of Western Australia, Tasmania and southern Victoria. They have also been domesticated to produce farm venison in both Australia and New Zealand.

Biology and behaviour

Red deer favour undulating grazing country interspersed with numerous water courses, to steeply wooded hills. They are mainly browsers feeding on woody trees and shrubs as well as grasses, sedges and forbs. Red deer are social beasts and live in herd that are dominated by a single female. They are seasonal breeders with mating occurring mainly in April. The sexes separate in summer, the females to give birth and the bulls to form their separate bands. Bulls are only territorial during mating season. Both sexes are mature at 16 months although young males do not usually mate due to competition from mature males. Gestation period is 8-9 months with single offspring; twins are rare.


Being ungulates, deer can carry the same diseases that can infect domestic stock. They would be a major concern if exotic diseases of concern should establish in Australia or New Zealand. They are a reservoir of bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand. They can also damage native vegetation and forestry plantations through their browsing. On the positive side they are a highly regarded game animal, especially in New Zealand and, as mentioned earlier, have been domesticated as stock.


Ground shooting either for recreational hunting or by paid, trained marksmen is the main form of control.

Fallow deer (Cervus (Dama) dama)


Fallow deer occur naturally in the Mediterranean region eastwards to southern Iran. Apart from rats and mice, they are the world’s most naturalised animal, mainly due to their ability to adapt to a wide range of climatic conditions. They are common in large parts of the North and South Islands of New Zealand. In Australia they occupy open woodland in parts of NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia although they are most numerous in Tasmania. Like the red, fallow deer have been domesticated for the production of venison.

Biology and behaviour

For all species of deer in Australia, only the males have antlers. Their social behaviour is variable. In some areas they form herds of up to 30 animals that are usually dominated by a single female. In other places they may survive as individuals. Adult males are usually solitary but may join bachelor groups, usually of less than 6 animals. During the autumn mating season, males establish and defend small territories. The gestation period is approximately 8 months and usually a single fawn is produced. Females become sexually mature at approximately 16 months and there after breed once a year. Males are physiologically mature at 17 months but usually do not breed until they are at least 4 years old, mainly due to competition from dominant males.

Fallow deer graze on a wide variety of grasses herbs and shrubs including in Australia, banksias and wattles.


Fallow deer cause damage similar to that caused by red deer, although in neither case has the extent of environmental damage been well quantified. Like red deer, they are a favoured species for recreational hunting.


As with red deer, control is usually through shooting either by recreational hunters or by paid, trained marksmen.


Standard Operating Procedures – wild deer control

  • GEN001: Methods of euthanasia - The word euthanasia means an easy death and should be regarded as an act of humane killing with the minimum of pain, fear and distress. Euthanasia of a range of […]
  • DEE001: Ground shooting of feral deer - Most non-recreational ground shooting of feral deer in undertaken as part of culling programs in national parks and reserves. Such shooting is usually done at night from a vehicle, with […]





Last updated: May 27, 2020
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