Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica)

Persian fallow deer buck
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Persian fallow deer fact file

Persian fallow deer description

GenusDama (1)

An extremely rare species in the wild (4), the Persian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica), also known as the Mesopotamian fallow deer (5), has a short, smooth coat ranging from reddish-brown to ochre in colour. A band of white spots runs along the lower body, above which white spots are spread randomly, and a dark line, flanked by two rows of white spots or a solid white line, runs down the centre of the back to the tail. The muzzle and the undersides of the neck, chin and jowls are all white (5). Only male Persian fallow deer bear attractive antlers, which are rather thick and flattened (5) (6).

The Persian fallow deer is similar in appearance to the European fallow deer (Dama dama), except for the Persian fallow deer is larger and lacks the large, flat ‘palm’ on the upper antlers (5). In the past there has been confusion over whether the Persian fallow deer constitutes its own species or is a subspecies of the European fallow deer (Dama dama); however, the Persian fallow deer is now considered to be a separate species (1).

Also known as
Mesopotamian fallow deer.
Dama dama mesopotamica.
Shoulder height: 90 - 140 cm (2)
100 - 150 kg (2)

Persian fallow deer biology

Due to the rarity of the Persian fallow deer, little information exists on the behaviour or social structure of this species in the wild (9); therefore most biological information comes from captive or reintroduced deer (4).

The Persian fallow deer grazes and browses on grass, leaves, shoots and other vegetation (5). Reintroduced deer do not appear to form herds, tending to be solitary or to form small groups (8), and the home ranges of reintroduced deer have been shown to change seasonally in accordance with their reproductive cycle and the seasonal availability of food (9).

The rut of the Persian fallow deer occurs between July and October (9) with the young born between April and July (7). This deer rarely produces more than one fawn (young deer) each year, but can reproduce in consecutive years (4).


Persian fallow deer range

The Persian fallow deer was previously abundant across western Asia but was lost from the majority of its range in the 19th century (7). Today, the only remaining natural populations are found in south-western Iran, and reintroduced populations are present in other locations in Iran and Israel (1).


Persian fallow deer habitat

The Persian fallow deer inhabits a range of wooded habitats including tamarisk, oak and pistachio woodlands (1). It is thought to favour dense thickets alongside rivers (1) and tends to avoid roads and settlements (8).


Persian fallow deer status

The Persian fallow deer is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Persian fallow deer threats

The Persian fallow deer was once abundant across a large range, but is now one of the rarest deer in the world (4). It was extirpated from the Middle East in the 19th century and by 1940 the species was believed to be extinct (7), but, thankfully, in 1956 two tiny wild populations were discovered in the Kuzistan province of Iran (4) (7).

These declines occurred mainly as a result of hunting and habitat loss (7), although competition with livestock was also implicated (1). As populations have shrunk, this species has also become vulnerable to the effects of a small population size, such as inbreeding (1). Concerns have also been raised over the possible hybridisation of this species with the European fallow deer in some areas (1).

In the mid-1990s, estimates sized the Persian fallow deer’s wild population at only 15 individuals (4), and while the population in Iran increased to an estimated 340 by 2004, only a small proportion of the current population is believed to be pure-bred, the remainder being hybrids. These populations remain the only known native Persian fallow deer populations in the world (1).


Persian fallow deer conservation

The Persian fallow deer has been rescued from the brink of extinction by substantial conservation efforts. The tiny native populations of Iran have provided the base for all captive populations and for the reintroduced populations in Israel and elsewhere in Iran (1) (4) (7).

In 1960, the Iranian Game and Fish Department initiated the first conservation actions for the species with the designation of the Dez and Karkeh Wildlife Refuges around the remnant deer populations. Between 1964 and 1965, six deer were captured and transferred to the Dasht-e-Naz Wildlife Refuge, and individuals have since been transferred to several other protected sites in the country (1). This conservation action resulted in the total population in Iran, including captive individuals, increasing from less than 250 in the mid-1990s to 365 pure-bred deer by 2008 (1).

In Israel, the reintroduction of the regionally extinct Persian fallow deer was planned as part of a larger effort to reintroduce the animals of the Holy Scripture of Judaism (6). The Hai-Bar Carmel facility was established with the purpose of breeding, and possibly reintroducing, the species and was stocked with a founding colony consisting of four deer received from Germany in 1976 and four obtained from Iran in 1978 (4). The Iranian deer were originally secured in an agreement between General Yoffe, the head of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, and the Prince of Iran; however, the deal collapsed with the destabilisation of the Iranian government. Refusing to accept defeat, General Yoffe dispatched a zoologist to Iran carrying a blow-gun disguised as a cane with instructions to capture four live deer and deliver them to Israel (6). The deer were successfully captured and eventually flown into Israel (6).

By the mid-1990s the captive Hai-Bar Carmel herd was deemed large enough to support reintroduction (4), and in 1996, a reintroduction project began in and around the Nahal Kziv Nature Reserve in northern Israel (7) (8). Between 1996 and 2001, 124 deer were released into the Nahal Kziv Nature Reserve (7), and studies suggest that the chances of achieving a self-sustaining wild population are good (9). However, the project could now be at risk, as much of the natural area in the vicinity of the reserve is threatened by development (8). However, hopefully such dedicated conservation efforts will secure the future of the rare Persian fallow deer.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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To learn more about the Persian fallow deer see:



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Home ranges
The areas occupied by animals during routine activities, which are not actively defended.
The offspring produced by parents of two different species or subspecies.
Cross-breeding between two different species or subspecies.
The breeding of closely related individuals. An inbred population usually has less genetic variability and this is generally disadvantageous for its long-term survival and success.
A species is established in an area where it previously occurred.
An attempt to establish a native species back into an area where it previously occurred.
The mating season.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2010)
  2. Hildyard, A. (Ed.) (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  3. CITES (October, 2010)
  4. Saltz, D. (1996) Minimizing extinction probability due to demographic stochasticity in a reintroduced herd of Persian fallow deer Dama dama mesopotamica. Biological Conservation, 75(1): 27-33.
  5. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums – Persian fallow deer (October, 2010)
  6. Levinson, C. (2010) How Bambi met James Bond to Save Israel’s ‘Extinct’ Deer. The Wall Street Journal Online, U.S. Available at:
  7. Bar-David, S., Saltz, D., Dayan, T., Perelberg, A. and Dolev, A. (2005) Demographic models and reality in reintroductions: Persian fallow deer in Israel. Conservation Biology, 19(1): 131-138.
  8. Bar-David, S., Saltz, D., Dayan, T. and Shkedy, Y. (2008) Using spatially expanding populations as a tool for evaluating landscape planning: the reintroduced Persian fallow deer as a case study. Journal for Nature Conservation, 16: 164-174.
  9. Perelberg, A., Saltz, D., Bar-David, S., Dolev, A. and Yom-Tov, Y. (2003) Seasonal and circadian changes in the home ranges of reintroduced Persian fallow deer. Journal of Wildlife Management, 67(3): 485-492.

Image credit

Persian fallow deer buck  
Persian fallow deer buck

© Eyal Bartov

Eyal Bartov


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