The Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) is one of the most common species of deer found in the Chilterns today. Named after John Reeves, a British Naturalist, who was also an Inspector for the British East India Company, the Muntjac is a native of South East Asia and is the oldest known species of deer.
Originally imported to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire at the turn of the century, there have been numerous escapes of muntjac over the years and, since then, it has rapidly expanded from South and Central England and Wales, and can now be seen in most English counties. It is often seen in areas of woodland, hedgerows, scrub, and even in gardens and parks in urban areas.
Barely the size of a large dog, the stocky russet coloured muntjac stands approximately half a metre at the shoulder. The male (buck) has visible ‘tusks’ (downward pointing canines), one protruding from each side of the mouth, as well as short antlers on long pedicles, which re-grow each year. Their facial markings include two dark stripes running up the forehead to the pedicles on the male, whereas the female facial markings consist of a dark ‘diamond’ shape running from between the eyes to the top of the forehead. Both male and female have highly visible scent glands on their face; the buck uses his to mark territory. The muntjac has a ‘hunched’ appearance as a result of their haunches being higher than their withers. When disturbed, their short tail is held erect, showing a flash of white fur underneath, which can be seen from afar as they run away.
The Muntjac is also known as the ‘Barking Deer’, resulting from the repeated loud barking noise it makes, for various reasons, some of which are not entirely understood. This barking can and does continue for long periods and can be very loud! Their diet consists of a wide variety of vegetation, including coppiced shoots, brambles, ivy and much more. After feeding they will often spend a period ‘lying up’, whereby they lie down, under cover, to ruminate (part of the digesting process also known as ‘chewing the cud’).
Although habitually solitary, they can also be seen as a family unit, with both the male and female and their young together. The deer are capable of breeding year round, and the female can give birth every seven months. I have witnessed this cycle first hand when a female decided to choose a quiet part of my garden to give birth to a single fawn. Seven months later, she returned to do the same thing all over again. When very young, the fawn will be left alone for long periods in a quiet, well-camouflaged spot (in undergrowth or long grass), and visited daily by the mother to feed. The fawn will stay close to the mother for a few months, and by the age of 6 months it is usually completely independent. If you have any local wildlife photographs, questions or stories to share with us, please send them to Wycombe World, and the best ones will be published in the next issue.
By Helen Olive