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photo: Shaked Buchbout
Persian fallow deer
photo: Roi Zidon
photo: zoo archive
The Persian fallow deer became extinct in Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, and many people thought that this animal had been lost forever. However, in 1956, two dozen individuals were discovered in southwestern Iran. This discovery amazed nature conservationists across the world, and they collaborated to save the Fallow deer.
A pair of the deer captured in Iran were transferred to Germany and served as the foundation for the first breeding group of the Persian fallow deer in captivity. In 1978, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority joined the international efforts to save the Persian fallow deer and decided to establish a breeding group at the Chai Bar Carmel nature reserve. The foundation of this breeding group consisted of two males who were transferred from Germany and another four females transferred from Iran. The females, which were ensured to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority by the Shah’s son, were transferred on the last flight to leave Iran for Israel during the Islamic revolution there.
The breeding group in the Carmel grew quickly. Today, it is the largest breeding group in captivity in the world. With the group’s growth, it was decided to begin returning the deer to the wild. The location chosen for this initiative is the Nahal Kziv stream in the Western Galilee. This region is lush with vegetation which includes springs to provide food and drink for the deer. As such, part of this area is recognized as a nature reserve where the deer can be protected, at least as they begin their lives in the wild. To release the deer, an acclimation enclosure was created in order to ease the transfer between captivity to wilderness and to connect the deer to their new surroundings. Since 1996, deer have been transferred through the acclimation enclosure and after a period of a number of months, they are released to nature. Throughout the initial years of the initiative, most of the deer were followed through radio- telemetry, which enabled their tracking to ensure their successful release. It also enabled learning about their movements. Today, the Persian fallow deer population in the Western Galilee is close to 200 individuals, the largest fallow deer population in the wild in the world.
At the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, there has been a breeding flock of Persian fallow deer since 1997. Since its establishment, the zoo has been a partner in the initiative to introduce the deer to the wild, and many individuals have already been returned to the Western Galilee.
The Biblical Zoo and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have partnered on an additional and similar initiative, this time in the Judean hills. The benefit of this additional initiative is the creation of a separate deer population, which enables the protection of a wider genetic range and reduces the risk of extinction in the event of a major blow, such as disease. The location chosen is a nature reserve and includes vegetation and water sources. In 2003, construction of an acclimation enclosure began, thanks to monies budgeted for it by the Aharon Shulov Fund, named in memory of Professor Shulov, founder of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, and also by the Zoo’s friend organization. In 2005, with completed construction of the Israel Railways in the area, the first deer were transferred to the enclosure. In summer 2005, the first group of deer was released to the wild in the hills of Jerusalem, and since then, additional groups have been released.
In 2015, estimates numbered released deer in Jerusalem at 50. Some of them were outfitted with transmitters in order to enable tracking of their acclimation to their new environment. The tracking is done by zoo staff and representatives from the Nature Authority. The initiative continues its work with the aim of creating a sustainable fallow deer population in the region.
Watch the zoo’s video journal story about the Persian fallow deer and its return to the wild here:
Watch another story here:
Name: Persian fallow deer
Scientific Name: Dama mesopotamica
Global Conservation Status: Endangered (EN)
In Israel: became extinct in Israel at the end of the nineteenth century and reintroduced to the wild in the 1990’s.
At the Zoo: a large breeding flock at the zoo’s Bible Lands Preserve
In the Bible: listed as one of the kosher animals, “the hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the wild goat, and the pygarg, and the antelope, and the mountain-sheep” Deuteronomy, chapter 14, verse 5
Habitat and Distribution: In the past, Persian fallow deer were scattered across the entire Middle East, and today there are only small populations in the wild, mainly in Iran, Iraq, and some which were returned to the wild in Israel. This type of deer prefers the forests.
Body Structure: The Persian fallow deer body is roughly 190 cm long and weighs about 100 kg. Females can weigh up to 50 – 60 kg. The males have large antlers, which fall out annually and grow anew each breeding season. Females do not have antlers. The males have thick and muscular necks. The color of the fur changes by season – in the winter, it’s a brown grey, and in the summer it’s a reddish brown. The male’s fur is darker and can even be black around the neck at times.
Diet: vegetarian, eating leaves
Social Structure: flocks with a lead male, females, and offspring
Activity cycle: active during the day
Threats in the wild: throughout the world- hunting and destruction of habitat; In Israel- attack by wild dogs and being run over by vehicles