Tag Archives: elk (Cervus canadensis)

Oh deer!

Spend more than five minutes in Texas and you’re apt to see a white-tailed deer (a.k.a. whitetail deer; Odocoileus virginianus).  Drive too fast around sunrise or sunset and you’re apt to hit one.


To say they’re ubiquitous is to understate the matter.  And as they’re well adapted to the climatic and ecological regions throughout the state, they can be found easily just about everywhere you go except in the dense urban centers (and even then you get the occasional stray who wanders into town from nearby territories).

Female white-tailed deer (a.k.a. whitetail deer; Odocoileus virginianus) standing in a clearing (2009_05_16_018901)

But in a state with lots of hunters, white-tailed deer get boring.  The same old venison from the same old species found in the same old places.  So what do you do?  You introduce more species.

Male elk (a.k.a. wapiti or red deer; Cervus canadensis) eating grass (2009_05_22_020495)

The endemic species of elk, Cervus canadensis merriami (sometimes Cervus merriami), was pushed to extinction around 1900.  In response, another species of elk was introduced.  This elk (a.k.a. wapiti or red deer; Cervus canadensis)[1], now survives in various small herds in the state.  Hunting keeps its numbers low.

Herd of elk (a.k.a. wapiti or red deer; Cervus canadensis) grazing in a field (2009_05_22_020724)

But introducing the cousin of an extirpated species didn’t seem exotic enough for Texas tastes.

Two male fallow deer (Dama dama) resting in shade (2009_05_22_020327)

And so the state established free-ranging herds of fallow deer (Dama dama)[2], a species native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Asia Minor.  Not so adept at handling Texas extremes, this species survives in less than 100 counties.

Three female fallow deer (Dama dama) at the edge of a clearing (2009_05_22_020223)

Its limited range and numbers meant it couldn’t be hunted as readily as white-tailed deer.  Can you guess where this is going?

Female chital (a.k.a. cheetal, chital deer, spotted deer, or axis deer; Axis axis) grazing by a tree (2009_05_22_020398)

That’s right!  Introduce another species, this time free-ranging herds of chital (a.k.a. cheetal, chital deer, spotted deer, or axis deer; Axis axis), a native of India.  Though they look a lot like fallow deer, they’re definitely not the same[3].

A male chital (a.k.a. cheetal, chital deer, spotted deer or axis deer; Axis axis) resting in the shade beneath a canopy of trees (2009_05_22_020395)

Sadly as these introductions usually go, Texas soon found that chital are ill adapted to the state.  They die off in herds during drought, they don’t do well in the cold and their range is quite limited.  So hunters are left mostly to chase down the option they started with: white-tailed deer.

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[1] The North American species of elk, Cervus canadensis, was originally thought to be a subspecies of the European red deer (Cervus elaphus).  Recent genetic testing has demonstrated that the two are separate species.

[2] Fallow deer have four color variants that sometimes look like different species.  All four color variants are found in Texas.  They are chocolate brown like the male in the background of that fifth image (called the black variant even though it’s not really black), all white (not albino), tan (called the menil form), and common (rust with white spots like the male in the foreground of the fifth image and the females in the sixth).

[3] I realize I already used that last photo.  What can I say?  It’s the best shot of a male chital that I have to date.