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Milu deer's protection label queried for its fast population growth
2005-08-25 02:36:42 XinhuaEnglish

BEIJING, Aug. 25(Xinhuanet)-- Two decades after returning to their homeland, Milu deer, known as David's deer in the West and once extinct in China, have grown into a population of about 2,000, half of the world's total of the rare animal.

The dramatic population expansion has lead to the question of whether it is necessary to keep the rare animal on the list of the world's endangered species.

The animal species was removed from the red list of endangered animals published by the World Conservation Union two years ago.

The red list, however, was only made by international experts on their own standards of choice and thus has no force of validity, said Wang Zongyi, a leading researcher at the Beijing Milu Ecological Research Center.

In China, Wang said, Milu deer is still under A-level state protection.

The first records of Milu deer appeared in Chinese records more than 2,000 years ago. The wetland deer species bears the odd nickname of"sibuxiang", or"none of the four resembles" for its unique features in appearance-- a camel's neck, a donkey's tail, cow-like hooves and antlers of stags.

Milu deer went extinct in China at the turn of the 20th century after a major deluge hit the imperial hunting ground in the southern suburbs of Beijing, where the last herd of the rare species lived.

The lost species was reintroduced to China on Aug. 24, 1985 from Britain. The current Milu in the world are all descendants from the 18 deer kept by the 11th Duke of Bedford at the Woburn Abbey at the end of the 19th century.

Scores of the rare deer were transported to Europe after French missionary Pere David for the first time saw the species in Beijing in 1865. The deer was then named after their french father.

The 20 reintroduced Milu deer settled down in Nanhaizi, part ofthe former imperial hunting ground and now a preserve for the rare animal.

Currently, about 130 Milu seers live in the preserve in Nanhaizi. Two other preserves in Jiangsu and Hubei provinces have more than 1,400 Milu deers.

Zhang Linyuan, director of the Beijing Milu Ecological Research Center, ascribed the rapid growth of the Milu deer population in China partly to breeding method.

"In the preserves, the deers are kept in a half-captive way, and the access to the wild can help maintain the species' diversity and regain their wild instinct," Zhang said.

The breeding method also helped reduce the occurrence of dystocia among female deers, which is common in captive animals, Zhang said.

Another reason for the fast population growth, Zhang acknowledged, is that the animal may have inherited superb genes from their fathers, who had to fight fiercely and beat all other male deers to win matching mates every year.

The reintroduction of Milu deers into China was named a successful reintroduction program by the the World Zoo Organization and the World Conservation Union in 1993.

Still, some Chinese experts worry the animal population might grow too large if it remains on the endangered list.

In a report earlier this month, the Beijing Morning Post cited Ding Yuhua, deputy executive of the Milu deer preserve in Dafeng of Jiangsu, as saying that he"hopes the animal can be removed from the list."

Wang Zongyi, however, contended it is"far too early" to do so.

"Only when the animal can survive in wild without human care, can we say it is time to remove it from the protection list," Wang said.

Wang warned that governmental policy plays a crucial role in the protection of endangered animals.

He backed his point by citing the example of saiga tatarica. The population of the rare antelope dropped to about 1,000 from more than two million after protection policies went invalid with the ending of the former Soviet Union.

The reintroduction of Milu deer is still far away from being a success under the context of its relations with human beings, Zhang Linyuan said.

Since the deer's habitats are very close to human settlements, it is still a problem for them to find an undisturbed settlement, Zhang said. Enditem

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