Hardly Bigger than a Rabbit

On the search for the smallest deer in the world

Lunch break in the deer habitat. I'm sitting with my sandwich on the 'deer bench' and squint into the warm spring sun. The 'deer bench' is one of the benches in the deer area – well, that's at least what the team here call it. We have our lunch here when the weather is nice. There are many benches in Zoo Berlin, but the 'deer bench' is our favourite. Although there are no spectacular views of elephants, giraffes, gorillas or sea lions here. Instead we have sunshine, fir trees, birds chirping, tranquility from the hustle and bustle on the main roads. And of course, deers. But you need a lot of patience and good timing for this. We are yet to catch a glimpse of an animal at lunchtime. At the same time, the deer selection at Zoo Berlin can be seen: Chinese water deer, barking deer, sika deer, chital deer, barasingha, Finnish forest reindeer and fallow deer, Visayan spotted deer, southern pudú …

And speaking of the pudú: It's certainly worth visiting here because the two tiny fawns are currently roaming around their surroundings. Two animals were born in February and March. Both of the animal young inevitably also bear the spotted patterns typical of the offspring and are so tiny that they are even harder to detect than their mere 40-centimetre-high parents. A male and a female deer were born. Both of them have different mothers but share the same father. Half-siblings so to say.

The fact that pudús live together in groups (of more than two) is quite unusual, reveals Tobias Rahde, deer curator in Zoo Berlin. No more than two pudús have ever been sighted together in the wild at a time. The pudú group in Zoo Berlin seems unusually harmonious: If they are hungry, then both the pudú young may suckle from the mother of their choosing.

The 'deer bench' can be found directly opposite the pudú enclosure. Perfect! Using my full concentration, I narrow both my eyes to try and get a glimpse of one of the animals. Did something just move there in the bushes? What a letdown: Only a sparrow.

The best time to visit the deer section

It won't leave me in peace and I have to ask: When is the best time to visit the deer section? Curator Tobias Rahde recommends heading for the deers immediately after the Zoo opens. The best option is to visit between 8 a.m.and 10 a.m. as well as in the evenings. Since deer are potential prey, they only trust themselves to venture out of cover early in the morning or at dusk. During the day they can be found hiding intuitively in the pen or behind the trees and bushes. The pudú are so small that you can hardly make them out while they are hiding. If you have a little luck and patience, then the rewards will be all the more sweeter should you spot one. The usually shy animals turn into really confiding creatures when the animal carers come with treats.

Let's try 9 a.m. tomorrow at the deer enclosure - we're sure to have better luck this time.

Habitat loss and hunting threaten the pudú


Those who think deer are boring and that they are ten a penny are actually mistaken: The pudú is classified as endangered according to the IUCN Red List. In fact, the pudús inhabit a small area in South America. This area is a true 'land of dwarfs'. Both the animals and the vegetation tend to be smaller than anywhere else. Nobody knows why this is. It is assumed that it has something to do with the local climate. Just under 10,000 individual animals of the little pudú live there. The population has declined by nearly 30 % in the past 12 years due to poaching and loss of habitat. A further 30 % decline is forecast for the next 12 years.

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