In Nara, one of Japan’s oldest cities, Sika deer roam freely around the temples. They were once believed to be messengers of the gods. Today they are still held in great regard, and lavished with ‘deer biscuits’, which they respond to by bowing.

Sika deer are excellent swimmers, readily taking to water to escape predators. Surprisingly, this woodland deer is more than capable of swimming up to 12km in the sea.

During the mating season, or rut, males make a loud whistling call that can be heard from 1km away. With their browsing, grazing and a liking for some crops, sika deer can be considered a serious pest. Native to Asia, they were introduced to parks in the UK in 1860, but escapees have established themselves in our countryside. Sika deer are considered to be sacred in Japanese culture.

Sika stag {Cervus nippon} in autumn, UK.

Sika can been seen in the loblolly pine forest, sand dune areas and marshes along Assateague. They are inhabitants of Japan and live naturally throughout eastern Asia, including parts of Korea, Siberia, China, Vietnam, Taiwan. Although smaller than whitetail deer, these animals exhibit elk-like behavior. Often called “Asian elk”, they sometimes offer visitors a chance to witness exciting physical challenges between males during the sika’s mating season. Sika eat the leaves of myrtle bushes, grasses, persimmons, shrubs, and other plants on Assateague Island. They even eat poison ivy.

Sika are highly vocal and at least ten different sounds have been recorded.

There are several subspecies and their fur can range in color from chestnut-brown with reddish hair on top of the head to a dark brown or black.

They have white spots on their backs which appear more visible during different seasons.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how many subspecies exist, but currently recognize six to 14 kinds of Sika. About Six subspecies are nearly extinct in certain areas of Asia. Sika deer have been transplanted to several countries and have been known to mate with red deer, therefore producing hybrids which are larger than Sika.

Image credit (featured): NATGEOWILD