How Chinese water deer found a home in the English countryside

<span>Photograph: Rod Williams/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Rod Williams/Alamy

A long, thin, pearly white tusk found while walking in Bedfordshire was identified (with the help of a warden from the local country park) as having fallen from the jaw of a Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis).

The deer is a shy Asian species that is firmly established in the east of England. Like the slightly smaller muntjac, it escaped almost a century ago from the Duke of Bedford’s collection at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire.

The species does not have antlers but long canine teeth that males use for seeing off rivals in the autumn rutting season. These tusks can be swivelled to avoid getting in the way of eating.

Though classed as an alien species, it is fortunate the animals found a home in the UK because water deer are disappearing in their native habitat in China. An estimated 10% of the world’s population now live in East Anglia.

As the name suggests, water deer like marshes and damp places and are good swimmers. They are normally solitary animals, keeping to their own territory except in the breeding season. In the spring, two to four fawns stay with their mothers until the autumn before dispersing to find their own patch.

Unlike other deer they do not normally damage trees, grazing on herbs and weeds and so fill an otherwise empty niche in our countryside.