20 June 2023

Four three-week-old ‘vampire’ deer who measured just 12cm at birth, are being hand-reared by zookeepers at the UK’s largest conservation zoo – protecting an important population of the vulnerable species.  

A Chinese water deer fawn at Whipsnade Zoo

Known as 'vampire deer' due to their set of sharp ‘fangs’, the tiny Chinese water deer weighed just over 400g when they were born - the same as a can of soft drink - and are being cared for by zookeepers around the clock to protect them from passing prey.  
Keeper Gracie Gee said the small spotted fawns - which have giant ‘teddy bear’ ears to help them better hear approaching threats in the wild - have been thriving in the expert team’s care and will soon move between ZSL conservation zoos to their new home at London Zoo.  
“We’ve been giving the little ones, who are all female, at least three feeds a day and they’ve already doubled in size since their births in early June.”  
Gracie added: “Even at their present weight of 800g large birds could still easily scoop them up, so we are hand-rearing the fawns in a sheltered, protected space at the Zoo. In a few weeks' time they will be moving to our sister site, London Zoo where they will be cared for by their dedicated team. We’ll be sad to see them go but we know they’ll be in the best hands.” 

A Chinese water deer in grass at Whipsnade Zoo
Two Chinese water deer at Whipsnade Zoo

Once settled at London Zoo and big enough to fend for themselves, visitors will be able to see the four tiny fawns; they will then be named by ZSL’s members in an online vote to thank them for their continued support of the international conservation charity’s work.   
Chinese water deer are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, as populations in the wild continue to decline in the face of threats including habitat loss and hunting.  
A recent study into the genetics of water deer in the UK, revealed the ancestral populations which Whipsnade’s Chinese water deer originated from are now extinct in mainland China, making the ZSL conservation zoo herd vitally important.  
“It’s important that we care for a strong and genetically diverse population of this important descendent line at both our conservation zoos; if Chinese water deer populations in China continue to decline, London and Whipsnade’s herds could be strong contenders for possible reintroduction to help protect the species.”  
Visit the UK’s largest conservation zoo this summer to see Chinese water deer, alongside other threatened deer species, this summer. Every ticket supports ZSL’s vital science and conservation work around the globe. 

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