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3.15 Deer

3.15.1 Odocoileus virginianus (white-tailed deer)
3.15.2 Mazama americana (brocket deer)

The neotropical Cervidae (Table 25) are classified into three groups: 1) the larger branched-horn species, usually frequenting open habitats, including the genera Odocoileus, Blastocerus, Ozotoceros and Hippocamelus: and 2) the forest deer (Mazama) with unbranched horns; and, 3) the pudú or dwarf deer, usually found in the Andean region (Pudu).

All are valuable game species, although Blastocerus dichotomus, the pantano deer, and Ozotoceros bezoarticus, the pampas deer are less valuable, being less abundant and the quality of their meat poor (93, 104, 523). Both they and the species of the genus Hippocamelus are listed in the IUCN Red data book as vulnerable in terms of both distribution and abundance. Pudu are in a similar situation. Mazama gouazoubira and M. americana, on the other hand, are widely distributed throughout tropical America, though the smaller M. gouazoubira is less common. The preferred neotropical game deer are unquestionably the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the north and Mazama americana in the tropical forests.

3.15.1 Odocoileus virginianus (white-tailed deer)

Vernacular names: Venado caramerudo (Venezuela), venado cola blanca (Mexico, Central America), venado de cornamenta (Colombia), venado gris (Peru), zeehert (Suriname).

Geographical variation and distribution: White-tailed deer are widely distributed from Canada to Bolivia and northern Brazil wherever adequate habitats are found, although not much is known about the species' distribution in Brazil. There are 14 recognized subspecies in Mexico and Central America and 8 in South America. Of the South American species, O. v. goudoti, peruvianus and ustus are probably associated with Andean habitats whereas O. v. cariacou, gymnotis and tropicalis seem to be lowland dwellers (81, 92, 253, 384).

Elevational range: From sea level up to 4 000 m in the Peruvian Andes (245).

Size and weight: White-tailed deer are usually smaller and lighter than their North American congeners, varying by subspecies and locality. The total length in Mexico ranges from 120-160 cm, with the bucks weighing 36-57 kg and the does 27-45 kg (336). The average total buck length in Venezuela is 145 cm. The does measure 135 cm, and their respective weights are 50 kg and 30 kg (81). White-tailed deer in Suriname can weigh up to 60 kg (73).

Habitat: The ecological range of Q. virginianus is quite unusual: it may be found in lightly wooded areas, brushland, thornbush, tropical savannah, swampy areas and the Andean paramos, though not the closed moist forests. It is tolerant of altered environments and can thrive in successional mosaics and partly deforested or cropped land. Water is the limiting factor for the presence of white-tailed deer (66, 81, 149, 188, 336, 384).

Abundance: Population densities can be very high in some areas: 20-30/km2 in Venezuela (80, 133) and 12-15/km2 in Mexico (336). Branan and Marchinton (74) cite abundances of 1-2/km2 in the coastal savannah area of Suriname. White-tailed deer are extremely scarce throughout most of their range, however, at less than 1/km2. Brokx (80) estimated an optimum density of 4-8/km2 for the llanos of Venezuela.

Behaviour: White-tailed deer live in small groups of 2 to 6 or more, preferably in ecotones and open habitats, and apparently lack a marked tendency to form harems. The species may occupy relatively permanent small home ranges. White-tailed deer are active in the morning and afternoon but they may become strictly nocturnal and extremely shy where constantly persecuted (66, 80, 238, 336, 384). There are no specific studies on white-tailed deer in the neotropics.

Feeding habits: Browse and forbs constitute the basic diet of the white-tailed deer, but dietary selection varies greatly from one place to the next (75, 82, 149, 224, 336). Leguminous species seem to be particularly important in the tropics. The seeds and fruit of certain trees are a prominent item, with grasses contributing little, at most 12 percent in savannah habitats (185). Crops (maize, sorghum, beans and vegetables) may be extremely important in some areas. Danields (149) found the white-tailed deer's diet in the llanos of Venezuela to be highly seasonal and dependant on which items were available when. In all likelihood there is very little overlap in what cattle and deer eat, which augurs well for joint management.

Reproduction: Does reach sexual maturity at approximately one year, and bucks probably at 18 months (81). There is a certain amount of periodicity, but oestrus and calving seasons can extend for several months and vary from one region to the next. The fawns are born in June-August in Durango, Mexico (188), April-June in Yucatan and southern Mexico (229), January-June in Honduras (321), May-July in Costa Rica (381), June-September and occasionally up to March in Venezuela, excepting the State of Apure (June-August) according to Brokx (81), and September-April in Suriname (73). Gestation lasts about 7 months. One fawn per birth is the rule in tropical populations but Brokx (80) is of the opinion that younger does may give birth more than once a year because they ovulate very soon after giving birth. The fawn's birthweight is 1.4-1.8 kg in Venezuela (80). The spots begin to disappear after two and a half months of age but can still be seen on the hindquarters up to the age of 7 months (80).

Hunting: The white-tailed deer is the most highly esteemed game animal in the Latin American countries of its habitat from Mexico to Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The usual hunting techniques are with dogs, stalking, shooting from a blind and jacklighting at night with lanterns (66, 258, 270, 336, 379, 384).

When dogs are used, a number of hunters post themselves along the deers' escape route as they are harried by the dogs. In stalking, a hunter actively looks for a deer within its habitat. These two techniques are considered sporting. With the blind, a hunter hides near a drinking-hole or eating area frequented by deer until the animals get close enough for a sure shot. Jacklighting at night with lanterns is fairly recent, facilitated by the powerful electric spotlights used to locate the deer, an easy way to kill a dazed animal. Deer are often hunted from a vehicle with spotlights, a technique allowing great distances to be covered in search of the prey. These last two methods are held to be destructive and the reason why deer are now so scarce throughout most of their range (238, 258, 270, 379).

Products: Deer are hunted for their meat, for their antlers as trophies, and for their commercially valuable hides (334, 381, 384). The deer is usually gutted in the field, which eliminates about 20 percent of the total weight, and brought home or back to the camp where it is boned and quartered. Venison, usually eaten fresh or, sometimes, dried and salted, is a preferred and important item in many rural diets.

Management: Hunting the white-tailed deer is prohibited in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela, and special licences are required to hunt one or several bucks during the season in Mexico, Costa Rica and Peru, but in actual practice these deer are hunted anywhere and at any time. This unfortunate practice has drastically reduced population levels except on specific private ranches whose owners have provided some protection from overhunting (81, 149, 238).

Table 25. Synoptic table of Latin American cervidae (native species). Weights and measures refer to adult males


Weight kg

Length cm

Shoulder height cm

(IUCN 1982)


Odocoileus hemionus


160 (336)

Northern Mexico

Odocoileus virginianus



82 (80)

From Mexico to Bolivia and northern Brazil

Bastocerus dichotomus



130 (122)

Central Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, southeastern Peru, northern Argentina


Ozotoceros bezoarticus


75 (122)

From central Brazil to Uruguay and northern Argentina

O.b. celer

Hippocamelus antisensis



78 (612)

Andes: from Ecuador to Argentina


Hippocamelus bisulcus

Andes: southern Chile and Argentina


Mazama americana



70 (238)

From southern Mexico to northern Argentina

Mazama chunyi

73 (274)

Andes: Bolivia and Peru

Mazama gouazoubira



45 (238)

From Colombia to Uruguay

Mazama rufina

Andes: from Venezuela to Bolivia; southern Brazil, Paraguay

Pudu puda



40 (276)

Southern Chile and Argentina

Pudu mephistophiles



30 (276)

Andes: Colombia and Ecuador


Q. virginianus' persistence, adaptability to a range of habitats and diets, productivity, size, meat quality, socio-economic importance and the opportunity it provides for sport unquestionably make it one of the region's most valuable game animals. It is highly adaptable to altered environments and compatible with extensive ranching. With its apparently excellent response to management it deserves top priority in the future development of wildlife management in the northern part of Latin America. Substantial increases in population density and productivity per unit of area should be a prime target of management plans.

3.15.2 Mazama americana (brocket deer)

Vernacular names: Cabro (Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico), corzo (Panama), corzuela colorada (Argentina), chifle, matacán (Venezuela), guatapará, veado mateiro (Brazil), prasara-dia (Suriname), temazate (Mexico), urina (Bolivia), venado colorado (Peru), venado soche bayo (Colombia).

Geographical variation and distribution: M. americana, the brocket or red deer, is found in most subtropical and tropical forests of Latin America from the states of Tamaulipas and Chiapas in Mexico to northern Argentina, including the island of Trinidad. Three subspecies are recognized in Central America and 10 in South America (92, 253).

Elevational range: M. americana ranges from sea level up to about 2 000 m (245, 258), and as high as 4 000 m in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia (66).

Size and weight: These traits vary greatly by subspecies and region. The total length of a Mexican brocket deer ranges from 102 to 111 cm with an average weight of 17 kg (336). In Panama the weight is 14-22 kg (382). In Venezuela, M. a. sheila weighs from 13 to 22 kg whereas M. a. americana is as big as the white-tailed deer at a total length of 140 cm with 79 cm at the withers and a weight of 35-45 kg (238). The total adult weight of this subspecies in the Brazilian Amazon is 50 kg (543), with Brenan and Marchinton (73) reporting a maximum weight of 65 kg for Suriname.

Habitat: This is a strictly forest-dwelling species, preferring closed, moist, lowland or montane forest, but may also frequent cultivated areas and clearings at night. In savannah and forest mosaic habitats and in well-developed deciduous forests, M. americana may coexist with the white-tailed deer.

Abundance: Judging by the importance of this species in the subsistence hunting and hide export statistics, it must be relatively abundant over much of the tropical forest. It was the first mammal in terms of biomass (22 percent) in the Afabaka dam rescue operations in Suriname (164). Branan and Marchinton (74) estimate population density at approximately 1/km2.

Behaviour: Brocket deer live alone or in pairs and are apparently sedentary (286, 382). Visibility is very poor in the habitats of these shy, crepuscular or nocturnal animals, and therefore not much is known about their behaviour.

Feeding habits: They feed primarily on the fruit and flowers of trees in the underbrush, rounding out their diet by browsing in forest clearings and along roads (75).

Reproduction: The doe reaches sexual maturity at one year and the male at about 17 months, remaining sexually active year-round, independently of the stage of the antler cycle.

In Suriname fawns are born from September to April, with peaks in November and February. The gestation period is roughly 220 days and the usual litter size is one or, rarely, two fawns (73). Alvarez del Toro (17) cites the months of April to August as the calving period in Chiapas, Mexico. Mazama appears to be monogamous with a one-to-one buck/doe ratio and no apparent sexual dimorphism as to size. Reproductive capacity is low with an average annual rate of one fawn per pair per year.

Hunting: Mazama americana is the main subsistence hunting deer in neotropical forest areas (see Tables 5 and 9), as in the export statistics for skins (Table 16). They are hunted with dogs. A frequent technique is to drive the prey down to a river or creek where the hunters wait (74, 241, 268). Nocturnal hunting from vehicles along logging roads or from canoes using lanterns to spotlight the shore are other common techniques. Brocket deer are also stalked, hunted from blinds and trapped, including the use of fixed guns to shoot passing deer. The impact of hunting is greatest along rivers, roads and trails and least in untravelled areas.

Products: The main product is meat, globally fourth in importance in subsistence hunting in forest areas after peccaries and tapirs. M. americana processing, quality and uses are similar to those of the white-tailed deer.

Brocket deer hides also have commercial value. An average 27 184 hides were exported each year between 1946 and 1972 from the Peruvian Amazon, and 197 560 from the Brazilian Amazon between 1960 and 1964. What fraction of the total kill these exports represent is not known.

Management: In forest areas of Latin America, Mazama americana appears to be the most abundant and valuable deer from the standpoint of food, sport and socio-economics. It is considered to be a fairly persistent species (336) and is protected by law in much the same way as the white-tailed deer. Unfortunately, the prospects for management are limited for a number of reasons: 1) this forest species is seriously affected by the ongoing deforestation of its habitat; 2) it is very difficult to apply control measures to small populations of subsistence hunters scattered over vast areas; 3) population levels and reproductive capacity seem to be lower than the white-tailed deer's even in favourable natural environments (74); 4) almost nothing is known about M. americana biology. There is a corresponding danger that populations will be depleted unless the advance of forestry, agricultural and livestock activities are offset by effective restrictions on brocket deer hunting.

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