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Sika deer, also known as spotted deer or Japanese (Jap) deer, vary in size from small to medium depending on the subspecies and region from where they originate. It’s characterised for its tenacious, aggressive and cunning behavior and displaces other ungulates wherever it occurs. It is one of the most vocal deer and capable of making as many as 10 different calls. Sika will always investigate cautiously if a hunter imitates their call. This is a great advantage to the skillful hunter who is patient enough to allow them to search for the intruder. Sika deer are territorial and a master stag generally commands a five-acre territory and will defend it with vigor. The ancestor of all Cervus species probably originated in central Asia and resembled sika deer. All Cervus species can hybridise and this is often the case especially where sika and red deer herds converge. This has commonly been documented in New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, England and Czech Republic. Several additional European countries where red deer are endemic would presumably be negatively affected by sika hybridisation and they are, widely, an enormous threat to pure endemic red deer herds. Sika deer were the first Asiatic deer to be imported into the British Isles. Between 1860 and 1930 sika were introduced to approximately 6 locations in Ireland, 13 in Scotland, 40 in England and two in Wales. Most introductions were to parks but escapes occurred.
Sika, have relatively small faces, shortish-dainty legs and, in summer, colourful pelage, ranging from reddish-mahogany to black; they are distinctly spotted. All-white individuals do occur, albeit rarely. Generally, sika from the Islands of Japan lose their spots during winter, whereas the sika from mainland Asia retain their spots throughout. During winter, the coat becomes darker and shaggier and the spots less prominent, and a dark (rope-like) mane forms on the back of the male’s necks, and a long neck mane (similar to red deer) is evident as they enter the rut. They have small rounded ears and a white, heart-shaped caudal patch that encircles the tail (which flares when they are alarmed). Mature antlers typically have eight tines (4 each side) and it is not uncommon for antler racks to have ten tines. Older stags antlers sometimes palmate (flatten out). They have a brow tine, trez tine, and forked tops (an inner and an outer top).
While many authors promote that sika-brow-tines typically do not project directly from above the coronet, rather, protrude from slightly up the main beam above the coronet. I am unconvinced. Many use this argument to suggest that some sika antlers from New Zealand with brows that protrude directly adjoining the coronet are red deer hybrids. This I believe cannot be substantiated and needs dismissing. Study in particular of at least Manchurian and Yezo sika stags (and there are further subspecies) clearly shows that their brow tines extend from directly adjoining the coronet and these are from known pure bred specimens of the species from their endemic regions. New Zealand’s sika herds are at least part Manchurian and it can be expected that at least some of the sika there will ‘throw’ towards Manchurian characteristics and grow antlers that are typical Manchurian in style. So the critics-claim, in part, is proven incorrect! While the typical Japanese sika (Cervus nippon aplodontus) and the Formosa sika (Cervus nippon taiouanu) do generally display brow tines that protrudes from slightly up the main beam above the coronet – it would be a mistake to generalize! Likewise it would be an injustice to discredit any hunter’s monster New Zealand sika trophy as a red deer hybrid singularly due to where its brow tines protrude directly above the coronets. Skull sutures patterns sometimes form useful indicators to determine species/subspecies. Skulls are composed of several pieces of bone that are joined together by what are known as sutures (fine squiggly lines in the skull). The portion of skull between sika antlers typically has sutures that form a T shape with the bottom of the T leading up over the center of the forehead to branch into the T between the antler pedicles. A hybrid red x sika deer in contrast forms a Y shape. This is just one of the indicators that can be used to try and determine the makeup of sika/sika cross.
Sika are a highly sought-after trophy on the central North Island of New Zealand, especially throughout the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Forest Parks southward of Lake Taupo, predominantly along the upper to middle watershed’s of the great Nagaruroro, Mohaka, Rangitikei and Tongariro Rivers. These rivers are also most famous for their Brown and Rainbow trout. Sika have continued to expand their range and are now wide spread. These deer, like several game species imported into New Zealand, originated from a gift from the Duke of Bedford’s Woburn Abbey in England. Three stags and three hinds, with an additional fawn that was born during the voyage, were released on what is now known as Poronui Station and became successfully established. The Sika deer that existed in England were of both Japanese (one of the smallest species) and Manchurian species (the largest species) and were running together, and it’s widely accepted that New Zealand’s herds are hybrids of these two species. It is reported that there was the possibility also of some influence from Formosan Sika also introduced to the British Isles. Sika deer in New Zealand have in limited regions, to a varying degree, also hybridized with local red deer. In Far East Russia Sika have been recorded hybridizing with the Maral (Asian Wapiti). New Zealand’s herds have produced some remarkable trophies up to 33inches in length.
More recently, travelling trophy hunters, including Australians, have been hunting the Hokkaido Island of Japan (to the north of the main island of Japan) for the very large antlered Yezo sika deer (Cervus nippon yesoensis). The Yezo Sika that inhabits the island of Hokkaido is indigenous, although it is not known whether they originated there or migrated from the main island of Japan. The indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido have hunted them for centuries and relied on them as a major food source. Presently, they are considered over populated, and complaints of their impact are many, with locals calling for increased action to control their numbers. The wolf that was their main predator is extinct and Japans Sika population is on the rise. It is estimated that Japans total Sika population is 3,080,000. The Hokkaido Sika is one of the largest Sika species with mature stags approaching and sometimes exceeding 200 kg when in peak condition. They also have some of the largest antlers with some Australians obtaining trophies with lengths often over 35 inches and incredible mass. Trophies with antlers to 38 inches and 10 tines are not uncommon with the longest recorded specimen being an incredible 44 inches. USA based Safari Club International (SCI) scoring system claims Hokkaido Sika produce the world’s biggest antler record-scores, however European’s, Conseil International de la Chasse (CIC) scoring system claim Manchurian Sika as the largest.
Travelling trophy hunters have also been concentrating their efforts in the Ukraine and Czech Republic where huge Manchurian Sika (Cervus nippon mantchuricus), also known as Dybowski’s Sika deer have been introduced and can be very successfully hunted. As previously stated these are known as the largest of the species however it’s contentious that the Yezo Sika is the Manchurian’s equal. Manchurian Sika as the name suggests are endemic to China, northeast China, Korea and the Russian Far East. Today it is likely to be extinct in China and Korea, but it’s estimated that approximately 9,000 still survive in the sparsely populated areas of Primorsky Krai in Russia where hunts are available within their endemic range.
Thirteen subspecies of sika exist with their origin in Vietnam through, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea and Russia but the most populated herds exist throughout the Islands of Japan.
They have been successfully introduced to New Zealand, Australia and numerous Western and Central European countries including the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Philippines (Jolo Island), Canada, and in the Eastern United States of America including Texas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, Wyoming, Washington, and Kansas.
Formosan (Taiwanese) Sika deer were first imported into Victoria between 1863 and about 1890. These were first held at Royal Park Zoological Gardens in Melbourne then later at the Victorian Acclimatisation Society’s enclosure at Gembrook. Between 1887 and 1900 they numbered at least 11 and were released directly at this location. Japanese Sika deer were additionally imported into Victoria from England and it is believed they may have been liberated at the same site as the former. They had also been previously held in Royal Park and it is widely believed they may have hybridised with the Formosan sika (Bentley 1967). Sika were initially reported as increasing at Gembrook however did not establish a viable herd.
Records clearly indicate Sika remained at the Royal Zoological Gardens at least up until 1914. In 1871 a pair of Formosan sika were supplied to Thomas McKellar for his property “Strathkellar” in western Victoria near the Grampians. In 1875 a further pair were provided to Ballarat where they were placed in gardens at Wemlource but escaped and the only hind died. Four sika deer were also supplied to Sunbury (Mr W.J. Clarke 1877). Formosan Sika were shipped to Launceston, Tasmania where they were held in the Zoological gardens where some remained at least as late as 1924 (Grant A. 2016).
In 1929 a farmer/naturalist by the name of Davidson who owned a property called “Flagstaff” (still in existence) located to the north west of Cootamundra acquired four sika deer from a private collector in Melbourne. These sika, almost certainly would have arrived via Royal Park (Melbourne Zoo). For seven years they were held in a one-acre pen, and apparently bred well. In 1936-37 Davidson put a few unruly cattle in with the sika. The cattle broke through the fence one night and the sika escaped (this was an ill-considered option by Davidson as the sika would have been very aggressive towards the cattle). Some locals were heard bragging in the pub that they had shot a few. Over the next eight years (the war years) the Jap deer were largely ignored and their herd expanded to an estimated 200. They were known to inhabit Bandongan Hills Timber Reserve, the Iron Bark Reserve, and several properties surrounding “Flagstaff”. This range extended also close to Junee as reports and photos from 1941 and 1946 document them in that area. Davidson saw the last lot of sika on “Flagstaff” in 1961. During the same year seven sika were shot on a neighbours-property by local Cootamundra shooters. Several more sightings occurred over the ensuing 10 years and Davidson’s grandson can recall seeing sika in the State Reserve into the early to mid 1970s (For more information regarding this subject, refer to Aaron R. Grants book RUSA 2016).
Some subspecies of Sika are either extinct or survive in extremely low, to low, populations throughout their indigenous range of Vietnam, Philippines, Korea and China. There are recent confirmed reports (on video) of the North China Sika (Cervus nippon mandarinus), one of the most endangered sika, surviving in the wild in north China where they were previously reported for several past decades as extinct in the wild. Although there are numerous North China Sika in captivity it is currently believed there is no suitable habitat remaining in their native range to consider reintroduction.
The South China Sika previously ranged from Yangtze River Basin all the way east to the coast, reaching as far south as the border with Vietnam. It’s estimated that a small fragmented population of 300 survive in the wild. They are at enormous risk due to their small isolated populations and illegal subsistence hunting.
The Vietnamese Sika that previously was present in northern Vietnam, and possibly South-eastern China, are extinct in the wild. This species survives in captivity and there are plans to reintroduce them into the wild.
The Jolo Sika deer in the Philippines that was anciently introduced to Sulu (unknown date, unknown subspecies origin) might be already extinct. Jolo is the capital of Jolo Island in the Sulu archipelago that’s positioned to the south in the Philippines group and northward of Indonesia’s, Sulawesi.
The Formosa Sika in Taiwan is recovering steadily due to careful management. In 1969 they became extinct in the wild. They have been reintroduced from captive herds held in Taipei Zoo where 22 were translocated in 1984 to enclosures at Kenting National Park on the southern tip of Taiwan where they were held for the following 10 years. Releases commenced in 1994. Over 200 have been freed, and its now estimated there are over 1,000 in the wild, with further plans to introduce them to additional national parks.
One species, C. n. hortulorum, is particularly uncertain and might in fact be of mixed origin therefore it is not listed.
C. n. aplodontus, northern Honshu
C. n. grassianus, Shanxi, China
C. n. keramae, Kerama Islands of the Ryukyu Islands, Japan
C. n. kopschi, southern China
C. n. mandarinus, northern and northeastern China
C. n. mantchuricus, northeastern China, Korea, and Russian Far East.
C. n. nippon, southern Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu
C. n. pseudaxis, northern Vietnam
C. n. pulchellus, Tsushima Island
C. n. sichuanicus, western China
C. n. soloensis, Southern Philippines (Anciently introduced in Jolo island)
C. n. taiouanus, Taiwan
C. n. yesoensis, Hokkaido
Multiple hunts are available for Sika worldwide.
In New Zealand prime guided sika hunts can be arranged for approximately NZ$5,500
Endemic Manchurian sika can be hunted free range in Russia for approximately US$4,500. Introduced ones can be hunted free range in the Ukraine and Czech Republic for approximately US$4,500 – $5,000.
Yezo sika can be hunted on Hokkaido for approximately US$5,500
Australian male hunter with Yezo sika
Female hunter with big N.Z. trophy sika