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Eld's Deer in Burma

Michael H. Robinson, Director - National Zoological Park 

It is probably no exaggeration to say that deer are one of the first
wild animals that children from around the globe learn about when they
begin to discover
the natural world. Residing somewhere in our early memories is a vision
of a gentle Bambi or perhaps even a real deer, which we may have
fleetingly as it leaped into the heavy undergrowth of the woods. Deer
inhabit six of the globe's seven continents, which may account for the
affection for the species. Unfortunately, 22 of the 38 species are
threatened or endangered. 

One of the most endangered of deer species is the Eld's deer. This
species is classified as a member of the large Eurasian deer family.
Like the deer that
inhabit our own wooded regions, Eld's deer young are spotted to help
them blend into their forested landscape and camouflage them in case a
passes nearby in search of a meal. 

Three subspecies of Eld's deer inhabit Burma and Indochina. One
subspecies is native to the heavily forested regions of Myanmar,
formerly Burma. The
deer, also known as the Burmese brow-antlered deer, has become the focus
of a massive conservation effort by the National Zoo and its
Conservation and
Research Center (CRC) in Front Royal, Virginia. 

If you are lucky enough to watch these deer first-hand, you would make
some interesting observations. First its descriptive name, "brow
antlered" refers to
the shape of its antlers, which crown its head with a distinctive
bow-shaped curve. Secondly, the Eld's deer, an inhabitant of tropical,
deciduous forests, has
legs especially adapted to the marshy terrain of its range. Rather than
walking on its toes as many species of deer do, it bears its weight on
the pastern, the
part of the leg located between the heel and ankle; this distributes
weight more evenly and enables the animal to negotiate soft forest
floors with relative

Like so many animals, the Eld's deer has become endangered primarily
because its habitat has been destroyed to make way for agriculture.
the problem, farmers of newly-cleared lands, anxious to protect their
new crops from hungry animals, hunted them and further decreased the
population of
these already rare animals. Now only a few thousand are left in Myanmar.

One hopeful note brightens an otherwise gloomy future: wildlife managers
Myanmar (some of whom, by the way, were trained by the staff of CRC)
report that since the government created sanctuaries that offer the
animal some
protection, the deer's population seems to be holding steady. 

The National Zoo has been working to save the brow-antlered deer since
1969. That year, two males and one female deer arrived here from the
Zoo in Myanmar. At that time, they were the only ones in the Western
hemisphere. Even today the species remains unusual in zoos,--only seven
zoos in the
U.S. exhibit the deer. In the intervening years, the National Zoo's
collection of Eld's deer has grown to become the largest population
outside of the wild. An
entire barn at the CRC is devoted to housing these delicate animals. 

Through a major research effort, the National Zoo has established one of
the most successful programs for breeding an exotic mammal. The species
studbook, which designs breeding strategies for the individual animals,
is also managed at CRC. The success of the program was underscored in
1992, when seven fawns were born, thanks to the state-of-the-art
artificial insemination techniques utilizing frozen semen. These
pioneering techniques were
developed by National Zoo researchers.