These interesting, if ungainly, deer originated in China and were first seen in 1865 by a missionary, Pere David, in the Imperial Hunting Park, Peking.
Elsewhere they had been extinct for thousands of years. Unknown to science, attempts were made to obtain specimens for Western zoos, but breeding was only successful from 1898, and then only at Woburn, Bedfordshire.
The original stock in China was nearly wiped out by escapes, following floods and the survivors killed in the Boxer Uprising, in 1900. Woburn hosted the sole surviving species.
They are large deer, standing 4ft at the shoulder, bright chestnut in summer with a blackish stripe down the spine and a long tail. In winter, they are iron-grey. Stags have peculiar multi-pointed antlers which look back to front.
The best place to see Pere David deer is at Woburn, but since the last war they have been sold to many parks and zoos. Breeding has not been found as easy as with other deer.
Though there have been a few escapes, none has been released into the wild. In 1985, some 22 deer were sent to China as a gift from the Marquess of Tavistock to the People of China. They were released in part of the old Imperial Hunting Park, so they have at long last returned home.