The rarest zoo animal – Schomburgk’s deer
One of the rarest mammals in a zoo is the Schomburgk’s deer (Rucervus schomburgki). Only twelve animals of this graceful species are ever kept in a zoo. The Schomburgk’s deer is similar in its appearance to the Barasingha deer (Rucervus duvauceli) or the Brown-antlered deer (Rucervus eldi). Both are the other two representatives of the same genus.
Stuffed of Schomburgk's Deer (Click to view larger image).
The pelt of the Schomburgk’s deer is dark brown with lighter underparts. The underside of the tail is white. Typical is also a black stripe across the upper jaw just behind the nose. Males possess basket-like antlers, upon which all main tines branch. This causes the deer to have up to 33 points on their antlers. Females have no antlers. Schomburgk's deer inhabited swampy plains with long grass, cane, and shrubs in central Thailand, particularly in the Chao Phraya River valley near Bangkok. They avoided dense vegetation and forests. They lived in herds that consisted of a single adult male, a few females, and their young.
Commercial production of rice for export began in the late 19th century in Thailand, leading to the loss of nearly all grassland and swamp areas on which this deer depended. Intensive hunting pressure at the turn of the century restricted the species further until it became extinct.
Schomburgk's Deer kept in Berlin zoo (Click to view larger image).
Only one male Schomburgk’s deer lived until the last century in a European zoo. There are some photos of this animal, which arrived from Thailand (Siam) in the Berlin Zoo on July 19, 1899 and died because of its old age on September 7, 1911. This male Schomburgk’s deer was a present of the Thai governor in the Sarabur Province to the German director of the Thai Railway. He kept this rare deer with some other animals in his garden and when he returned to Germany, he offered all these animals to the Berlin Zoo. When this deer arrived in Berlin, the last Schomburgk’s deer in a European zoo died already three years ago. In spite of different attempts it was already then impossible to get more deer for breeding purposes from Thailand. Due to the destruction of their habitat, only a very few dispersed deer still lived in the wild. Only 25 years later, in 1932 the last wild animal was hunted and since that time the wild population of the Schomburgk’s deer is believed to be extinct, although it is said that a tame Schomburgk’s deer lived in a Bangkok temple until 1938.
However, some scientists consider even today this species to be still extant, because there are different opinions about the original distribution of the Schomburgk’s deer. It is doubted that its distribution was really limited only on the Chao Phraya River valley near Bangkok. - In 1991, antlers were discovered in a Chinese medicine shop in Laos, which were identified as coming from Schomburgk's deer. But it was not possible to get a consistent story about the antlers from the shop owner and there is no evidence that they come from a recently killed animal. Probably they are decades-old stock and still in trade.
Skull of Schomburgk's Deer (Click to view larger image).
The Hamburg male in 1862 and in 1864/65 (Click to view larger image).
Today only three mounted animals and about 300 antlers of the Schomburgk’s deer can be found in the Natural History Museums worldwide. Besides there still exist few photos of the last male Schomburgk’s deer in the Berlin Zoo and two drawings of the male, which arrived in the Hamburg Zoo in 1862. These photos and drawings of the male are the only evidence and imagination, which we have of this deer species today. But we even don’t know exact details about the females.
Before the “Berlin deer” arrived, there was only one import of four deer from Thailand to Europe in 1862. The both bucks went to Hamburg and Paris (can be seen today as mounted animal in the Paris NH Museum) and the both females to Berlin. When the animals arrived in Europe, the species was still unknown and it was not clear that all four animals belonged to the same species. The name “Schomburgk’s deer” was not yet determined, but it was already obvious that these deer belonged to a rare species. Therefore the Berlin Zoo sent for breeding purpose in 1869 one of its females to Hamburg. Indeed, the pair in Hamburg was breeding four times, but only one calf was a female. This female was later the mother of seven calves, but her only two female calves were stillborn. One of her sons lived until 1896 and died at the age of 18 years. Two of her male offspring were sent to Paris and Cologne and died there after four years. Probably they bashed themselves during the state of rut, because in this time the males become very aggressive and hurt themselves at walls and fences. Therefore most of the antlers in the museums are damaged too.
Although most of the scientists believe that the Schomburgk’s deer is extinct, there were some indications in the 1990ies that a remnant population might still survive in Laos, north of the long time known distribution in Thailand. Further investigations failed to find any evidence of the species there. However, in future any indication of its existence should be followed up carefully.
Schomburgk's Deer Enclosure in LOST ZOO (Click to view larger image).
Our Lost Zoo is the only place, where the Schomburgk’s deer can be seen. We shall keep and exhibit this extreme rare deer species together with its nearest relatives, the Barasingha deer from India and the Brown-antlered deer from Eastern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. By the loss of their habitat, both species are also threatened today. But it is our hope that through better protection they will survive in their wild habitat.
In our Lost Zoo they all need an air-conditioned animal house and large outside enclosures. Protection against sunshine and heavy rain is important for the animals’ welfare. Besides, special constructions (“love fences”) must guarantee that the females can escape the male, if necessary. Also a separation of the male should be possible. Because of its aggressiveness during the rutting season, the buck is difficult to keep and to handle at this time.
Come and see the Schomburgk’s deer in our Lost Zoo or visit on your next trip to France the stuffed animal in Paris in the Natural History Museum.