State Museum of Natural History
Biodiversity Data Centre

Cervus elaphus Linnaeus, 1758

Vernacular Name
Red Deer, Western Red Deer
Conservation status
Be (III)
Value of species
Game (hunting) species
Subspecies C. e. corsicanus is strictly protected under Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annexes II* and IV of the EU Habitats and Species Directive.
Although Grubb (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) included canadensis in C. elaphus sharing this conclusion with most taxonomists of 20th century, all original scientific papers published since 1995 have concluded that C. elaphus and C. canadensis are two valid species regardless of whether this conclusion was based on comparison of molecular (Kuwuyama and Ozawa 1999, Randi et al. 2001, Ludt et al. 2004, Pitra et al. 2004, Zhang and Zhang 2012, Liu et al. 2013, Lorenzini and Garofolo 2015), or ethological data (Cap et al. 2008, Frey and Riede 2013). Based on morphological data this was suggested earlier by several authors, e.g. Lydekker (1898), Flerov (1952) and Geist (1998) and both recent reviews on cervid taxonomy are in line with this opinion (Groves and Grubb 2011, Mattioli 2011). A recent analysis of the Cervus group (Lorenzini and Garofolo 2015) has provided the first indications of another, third, species (aside from Cervus nippon). Mitochondrial complete cytochrome b and control region sequences were analysed under a Bayesian coalescent framework to derive phylogeny, with particular attention on populations from Central Asia. The resultant phylogenetic reconstruction confirmed that red deer is differentiated into two robust monophyletic clades corresponding to the western and eastern part of the range. At the species level, molecular data suggested a fourth species should be recognised, the Tarim Red Deer from Central Asia, including the populations from the Yarkand-Tarim and Bukhara regions and Indian Kashmir, which were formerly considered as subspecies of C. elaphus (C. e. yarkandensis, C.e. bactrianus and C. e. hanglu, respectively). The authors suggest this taxon should be recognised as the Tarim Red Deer (Cervus hanglu, Wagner 1844), as the name with priority over C. yarkandensis or C. bactrianus. Further investigations need to be conducted from additional molecular sources and nuclear coding genes as well as verification of morphology from museum specimens, before the elevation of this taxon to species level can be confirmed (Lorenzini and Garofalo 2015). We provisionally follow this taxonomy here for the purpose of the IUCN Red List assessment in 2016. However, it should be noted that future clarification on genetic relatedness, especially studies with nuclear markers and a more formal morphological description, may lead to further revisions to the taxonomy of the provisional species, C. hanglu, as more information becomes available. Several subspecies of Western Red Deer have been recognized with their ranges as follows: C. e. elaphus: Ireland, Great Britain, continental Europe; C. e. barbarus: Atlas Mountains (Algeria, Tunisia); C. e. corsicanus: Corsica (extinct, reintroduced in 1985), Sardinia; C. e. maral: Anatolia; C. e. italicus: Italy (Ferrara); C. e. brauneri Crimea (Russia); C. e. montanus (syn. Carpathicus) Carpathian mountains. C. e. italicus (Mesola Red Deer) has been recently described as a new subspecies, based on morphological and genetic characteristics, from the Bosco Della Mesola Nature Reserve, which is thought to be the only autochthonous population of Red Deer in the Italian Peninsula (Zachos et al. 2014). This conclusion is supported by Lorenzini and Garofalo (2015). However, recent analyses call into question the veracity of the morphology-based subspecific taxonomy of C. elaphus more generally. Rather, three genetic lineages were clearly differentiated corresponding approximately with geographical factors. One lineage was distributed in central-western Europe (and also Ukraine), one from eastern Europe to the Middle East, and a third which corresponded to C. e. barbarus and C. e. corsicanus from North Africa and Sardinia, the latter two nomials are considered synonyms and were recommended considered as a subspecies (Lorenzini and Garofalo 2015). This work suggests that revision of the subspecific taxonomy of C. elaphus could be beneficial. The Red Deer has a distribution extending from Europe into North Africa and the Middle East (Corbet 1978, Koubek and Zima 1999, Wilson and Ruff 1999, Wilson and Mittermeier 2011). It is widely but somewhat patchily distributed throughout most of continental Europe, although it is absent from northern Fennoscandia and largely from European Russia. It is present on a number of islands, including the British Isles and Sardinia. Whether the Red Deer is native to Ireland or introduced is still under debate (Carden et al. 2011). In Ireland Red Deer became locally extinct at the end of the Pleistocene but were reintroduced by humans from Scotland during the Neolithic period. The only population descended from this early introduction is within Killarney, County Kerry. All other populations were introduced during the 19th century from outside of Ireland. (Carden et al. 2012). It became extinct on Corsica but was reintroduced in 1985 from Sardinia. All the continental populations of Italy became extinct in historic times and were replaced by new stocks of foreign origin (Toschi 1965, Mattioli 1990, Mattioli et al. 2001, Breber and Masseti 2007); in Sardinia the species did not belong to the fossiliferous horizons of the Upper Pleistocene and did not appear before the end of the 7th millennium BC (Masseti and Vianello 1991, Vigne 1992). On the small island of Lampedusa (Italy), in the Sicilian Channel, a population of deer possibly referable to C. elaphus corsicanus survived between the last part of the 18th and the first half of the following century (Masseti and Zava 2002). It is extinct in Albania. In Greece, the small isolated subpopulations are the result of reintroductions into areas where it previously occurred. The last native population of Greek Red Deer is supposed to have survived in the Sithonia peninsula (Chalkidiki, north-eastern Greece) where it became extinct in the 1980s (Masseti 2012 and references therein). Likewise in Portugal all populations result from reintroduction or natural expansion from transborder Spanish populations which in turn were reintroduced. It occurs from sea level to above the tree line (c. 2,500 m) in the Alps. The distribution is much more patchy and fragmented than the apparent continuity suggested by the distribution map. In Africa it is found in the Atlas Mountains of NE Algeria and Tunisia. It is in the near and Middle East in Turkey, N Iran, and Iraq, but extinct in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. It is a widespread and abundant species across much of its current range, although there is increasing fragmentation of populations in northern Africa and central Europe, and the species has been lost from some areas. In all Europe excluding Russia, the species numbered 1.25 million individuals in 1985 and 2.4 million in 2005. Densities are typically 1-5 individuals per km², sometimes up to 15 individuals per km² (Wilson and Mittermeier 2011). The annual harvest grew in the same period from 270,000 to 500,000 individuals. In Germany there are reports of 60,000 animals hunted per year. The most recent records indicate a population size of 150,000-180,000 in Germany (M. Stubbe pers. comm. 2006). The species has been extirpated in historical times from Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan. In Russia, approximately 500 purebred C. elaphus (C. e. hippelaphus) are estimated to occur in Voronezskii Zapovednik. Animals from here were translocated to European Russia, simultaneously with C. e. sibiricus, hybrid animals from Askania-Nova and Sika Cervus nippon, so the rest of the animals in European Russia (an estimated 20,000 individuals) cannot be considered pure C. elaphus (O. Pereladova pers. comm). Outside of European Russia, native populations number approximately 3,000 individuals (O. Pereladova pers. comm.). C. e. maral seriously declined in the Russian part of the Caucasus in the1990s but has recovered slightly since 2,000 although it is still seriously threatened. In Georgia and other parts of the Caucasus it is very rare. There are no data on C. e. brauneri from the Crimean Peninsula but it is thought to be very rare (O. Pereladova pers. comm.). C.e.corsicanus, and C.e.barbarus remain rare. C. e. corsicanus underwent a dramatic decline disappearing from Corsica in 1969 and decreasing to circa 100 individuals in Sardinia in 1970. The subspecies recovered slowly in Sardinia, numbering 8,000 animals in 2014 and in 1985 a reintroduction programme was started in Corsica (Wilson and Mittermeier 2011). Populations in Northern Africa have been increasingly declining. In Algeria, C. e. barbarus persists in the Annaba, Bouchegouf, and El-Kala regions, where it is restricted to the Beni-Salah, Ben Abed, and El-Kala forests (DSG 1988). The total number of animals in the mid-1970s was reported to be 400–600 (Halisse 1975), and by the late 1980s reached around 2,000 animals (Dolan 1988, de Smet 1989). However, the population has been in a sharp decline since (K. de Smet pers. comm. 2007). In Tunisia, the population was reported to have expanded considerably during the 1970s, with populations known in El Feidja, Ain Draham, and Tabarka regions (DSG 1988). The total population of ten animals in 1961 had increased to around 2,000 by the late 1980s. Much of this increase is attributed to the success of the 1966 reintroduction protection program at El Feidja, which has resulted in colonization of an approx. 100 km length of coastal Tunisia (Dolan 1988). A survey in 2006 showed that population levels were significantly lower than estimated before. In Morocco it went extinct in the early 20th century (by 1932). During the first half of the 20th century, Spanish deer were introduced to northern Morocco from the royal estate of El Pardo (Madrid) (Lehmann 1969).There have more recently been reintroductions into two enclosures but wild populations have not yet become established (F. Cuzin pers. comm. 2007). A regional assessment has been completed for this species as part of the European Mammal Assessment (, which offers more details on European occupances, populations and threats. It inhabits open deciduous woodland, mixed deciduous-coniferous and coniferous woodland, upland moors and open mountainous areas (sometimes above the treeline), Mediterranean maquis scrub, natural grasslands, pastures and meadows (Koubek and Zima 1999). It prefers broadleaved woodland interspersed by large meadows. In woodland, its diet consists mainly of shrub and tree shoots, but in other habitats it also consumes grasses, sedges and shrubs. Fruit and seeds are important in autumn. Generally found in mountainous regions, where it spends summers in alpine meadows and winters in valleys. On more level terrain, seeks wooded hillsides in summer, open grasslands in winter. In west central Asia it occurs in woody and shrubby thickets along riverbanks in desert areas (Wilson and Mittermeier 2011). Found up to 2,800 asl on the Alps. Animals come lower into valleys in winter. They live in small herds of females and young, gathering into larger herds in winter. Stags live singly or form all male herds in summer, but gather harems in rut season in late summer, without obvious territories. Natural lifespan is about 15 years, but a captive animal lived up to almost 27 years. Calving peaks in May-June following a gestation of 235 days. Females drop single calves in late spring. Females are sexually and socially mature at 1.5-2.5 years. Males attain sexual maturity as yearlings but they continue growing until at least 6 years of age and cannot compete for females with other males until then, by which time they reach social maturity.
Book reference
  • Котенко Т.И., Ардамацкая Т.Б., Дубина Д.В. и др. Биоразнообразие Джарылгача: современное состояние и пути сохранения // Вісник зоології. – 2000. – Спец. випуск. – 240 с.
  • Селюніна З.В. Зміни складу теріофауни регіону Чорноморського заповідника в результаті інвазії видів (історія вивчення ссавців та господарського освоєння) // Праці Теріологічної Школи. - 2014. - Т.12. - С.69-80.
  • Татаринов К. А. Звірі західних областей України (матеріали до вивчення фауни Української РСР). - Київ: Вид-во АН УРСР, 1956. - 188 с.

Taxonomic branch