14 July 2020

Zookeepers at Whipsnade Zoo are hand rearing a unique species of deer known as the ‘vampire’ deer - due to their set of sharp canine teeth.

Chinese water deer are born weighing less than 1kg, less than a bag of flour, so keepers at the UK’s largest Zoo are taking steps to protect the tiny fawns from prey by caring for them around the clock.
Zookeeper Gracie Gee said, “The Chinese water deer fawns are a very welcome new arrival to Whipsnade and an important species for us to care for as the population in the wild is Vulnerable and continuing to decline.
“They are so small when they are born making them extremely vulnerable to predators, large birds could easily scoop them up, so we are hand-rearing the fawns in a sheltered space until they are big enough to move to their new enclosure at Whipsnade – all of this ensures we have a strong population at Whipsnade to safeguard the future of this species.”
Just 12cm tall at birth, the seven fawns, named Bao, Yang, Yin Mei, Chen, Lu and Zhi, are being bottle fed by zookeepers every six hours.  Unlike some other deer species, the young males will not grow antlers but begin to develop a unique set of sharp canine teeth when they are about six months old – known as fangs or tusks.

Sleepy Chinese water deer curled up on a blanket at Whipsnade Zoo

Gracie Gee continued; “We’re excited to see them develop – they’ll only grow up to 50cm tall weighing around 11 to 18 kg when they are adults – so while they’ll remain quite little, they’ve still got some growing to do.
“This species of deer is certainly unique, they have soft round ears which gives them a teddy bear-like appearance and  the males have sharp ‘fangs’ or tusks which can grow up to five cm long – the males can even move these fangs forward and backwards which they use to defend their territory – while their back legs are incredibly strong, and longer than their front legs, to give them a powerful leap.  
“As a free-roaming species at Whipsnade, the deer can be seen all over the zoo. Visitors are most likely to spot them in the Passage through Asia drive-through exhibit or sharing the Southern white rhinos’ paddock.”

A Chinese water deer on the scales at Whipsnade Zoo

The pictures released today show behind-the-scenes pictures of the small Chinese water deer fawns just two weeks’ old being hand fed, weighed and cared for by zookeepers.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo reopened to the public on Monday 15 June after an unprecedented three months of closure due to the coronavirus lockdown. The loss of income put the charity zoo under huge financial pressure as they continued to provide the highest level of care for their animals.

Now open to limited numbers only, ZSL, the international conservation charity behind the Zoo, is calling on the public to help ensure they stay open by booking a ticket, joining as a member or donating to ZSL.  


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