Feral Deer 

Deer Family Cervidae

There are six species of deer in Australia; fallow (Cervus] dama), Red or Wapiti (Cervus elaphus); Hog (Cervus [Axis] porcinus); Chital, Axis or Spotted deer (Cervus axis); Timor or Rusa (Cervus timorensis) and Sambar (Cervus unicolor).

In this brief introduction I will mainly focus on the Fallow and the Red.

Biology and ecology

all species of deer in Australia, only the males have antlers

A Fallow Deer is similar in size to a large domestic goat, Adult bucks are 140–160 cm long, 85–95 cm in shoulder height, and typically 60–100 kg in weight; does are 130–150 cm long, 75–85 cm in shoulder height, and 30–50 kg (66–110 lb) in weight. 

The coat varies widely in colour, but the most common are fawn or black, with large white spots. It also has distinctive white markings on the tail and buttocks. Its tail is raised over its back if the animal is disturbed. Mature males have multi-pointed, palm-like antlers that look very different to those of other species. 

Red deer 

The male (stag) red deer typical shoulder height is about 95 to 130 cm and 

175 to 250 cm long and weighs 160 to 240 kg the female (hind) is around 180cm at the shoulder and 160 to 210 cm long and weighs 120 to 170 kg 

Red deer have different colouration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with grey or lighter colouration prevalent in the winter and more reddish and darker coat colouration in the summer, Autumn is also when some of the stags grow their neck manes.


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. Gestation period is 8-9 months with single offspring; twins are rare.


Red deer are found across most of the temperate north from Scotland across Europe to Asia, they favour undulating grazing country interspersed with numerous water courses, to steeply wooded hills. 

Fallow deer occur naturally in the Mediterranean region eastwards to southern Iran but 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. 


Their preferred food is grass but they also eat the leaves of shrubs and trees, herbs, bark and some fruit. Deer like cows are ruminants, characterised by a four-chambered stomach Their diet is largely determined by what is locally available, but because they require a diet twice as high in protein content than cattle— and with significantly higher quantities of digestible vegetable matter—they will normally feed selectively on the highest quality plants in a pasture. Because of this, deer can impose substantial costs on primary producers. 

Parasites and diseases 

Feral deer are susceptible to exotic livestock diseases including foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, vesicular stomatitis, rabies and blue tongue. Unchecked, wild herds could play a major role in the spread of infection and act as a reservoir if these diseases are introduced to Australia. Feral deer are also susceptible to a number of diseases and parasites currently in Australia including cattle tick, leptospirosis and ovine and bovine Johne’s disease. The main concern is the cost in lost livestock production or the spread of disease to free areas (e.g. bovine Johne’s disease). 

Current Australian distribution 

They favour mixed grassland, woodland and rainforest associations.

There are large areas of suitable habitat that they could occupy in Australia including the south-west of Western Australia, Tasmania and southern Victoria, But the very adaptable nature of the different species of deer could mean most of Australia could be colonised

Economic impacts 

Deer compete with livestock for pasture and forage costing  farmer 

Being ungulates, deer can carry the same diseases that can infect domestic stock.

Deer can also damage forestry plantations and orchards through their browsing, even going as far as ringbarking trees killing them the trees. During rutting times males can destroy vegetation by thrashing their antlers to remove the velvet from them.

Large deer can cause significant damage to fencing and infrastructure 


Environmental impacts

To establish the rutting area, bucks trample down the vegetation causing soil compaction, Deer are very predictable in their movements and travel the same paths to water and food causing erosion on these paths, Bucks will also build wallows in water holes fouling the water for livestock and native wildlife 

Deer also are vectors for noxious weed seed dispersal and the spread of plant diseases such as Phytophthora cinnamomi.

Social impacts 

deer can cause vehicle collisions on the roads bounding out of bushland on roadsides  

Large populations of deer have moved into semi urban areas and cause destruction of gardens and recreational parks.

There is also the problem with illegal hunting on private and Government lands. 

Strategies for control 

The only real control of feral deer is by ground shooting and exclusion fencing, populations can be managed with sustained culling and monitoring. 

Fallow Identification points

  • medium sized deer
  • very long tail
  • colour of coat can be black, white, grey-brown and light-brown
  • Rump patch is white, black or brown bordered, and heart-shaped
  • buck has a prominent Adam’s apple
  • buck has a brush-like penile sheath
  • buck: up to 95cm at shoulder and 90k
  • doe: up to 80cm at shoulder and 40kg.

Red deer Identification points

  • second largest of Australia’s deer species
  • very short tail
  • red-brown coat and cream underbelly
  • cream rump patch which extends onto back
  • U-shaped, multi-pointed, complex antlers
  • stag: up to 120cm at shoulder and 135-160kg
  • hind: up to 90cm at shoulder and 95kg.

Hog deer Identification points

  • smallest deer species in Australia (sheep size)
  • coat ranges from dark brown to reddish-brown
  • upward sloping back to a high rump
  • often has uniform light spots from shoulders to rump
  • white-tipped tail
  • stag: up to 70cm at shoulder and 50kg
  • hind: up to 61cm at shoulder and 30kg.

Chital Identification points

  • reddish to chestnut brown coat with white spots
  • striking white upper throat
  • long tail
  • dark brown/black muzzle
  • stag: up to 85cm at shoulder and 80kg
  • hind: up to 70cm at shoulder and 40kg.

Rusa Identification points

  • coarse grey to grey-brown coat with light chest and throat
  • line of dark hair runs down the chest and between the forelegs
  • very vocal compared to closely-related sambar deer
  • long tufts of light hair from inner ears
  • stag: up to 110cm at shoulder and 135kg
  • hind: up to 95 cm at shoulder and 60kg.

Sambar Identification points

  • largest of Australia’s deer
  • uniform coat, can be light or dark brown, greyish or black
  • coat fades to a light buff colour under chin, between forelegs and under body
  • prominent bat-like ears, pale on the inside
  • stag: up to 130cm at shoulder and over 300kg (about Jersey heifer size)
  • hind: up to 115cm at shoulder and 230kg.