Red Deer

Scientific Name: Cervus elaphus maral
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae

General Information

The Iranian red deer is bigger than the European race, an adult stag reaching a height of approximately 140 cm at the shoulder and a weight of 250 kg. It is also distinguished from the European deer by almost invariably possessing two brow tines, rather than one, for each antler. Otherwise the two races are very much alike. It is of a dark gray color except during the summer, when the pelage becomes a rufous dark brown. The fawns are reddish brown with white spots. Only the males grow antlers which are shed in February and start re-growing in spring. The antlers are rather straight, with the fourth and fifth tines forming a fork, which may develop into a crown if more than five tines are developed. Mature Red Deer usually stay in single-sex groups for most of the year. During the mating ritual, called the rut, mature stags compete for the attentions of the hinds and will then try to defend hinds that they attract. Rival stags challenge opponents by belling and walking in parallel. This allows combatants to assess each other’s antlers, body size and fighting powers. If neither stag backs down, a clash of antlers can occur, and stags sometimes sustain serious injuries. The rut usually commences at the end of summer in Iran and is manifested by the roaring (bellowing) of the mature stags. The onset of the rut and degree of roaring are predicated on weather conditions; thus a drop in temperature will activate the males, whereas warmer weather will reduce it.
Outside the rutting season, males and females travel in separate herds. Hind herds consist of a number of mother families consisting a hind and her subadult and juvenile offspring. In mountain areas, there is a vertical migration with the hot summer months being spent at high altitudes. The red deer is a social and mainly nocturnal animal. It swims well, and both sexes like to wallow in a mud bath. Natural lifespan is about 15 years, but a captive animal lived up to almost 27 years.


They feed on a variety of leaves and grasses and occasionally on mushrooms and berries. They eat fruits and berries in the summer, while acorns are particularly favored in autumn and winter. In woodland, its diet consists mainly of shrub and tree shoots, but in other habitats it also consumes grasses, sedges and shrubs.


It inhabits open deciduous woodland, upland moors and open mountainous areas, natural grasslands, pastures and meadows. Bushes and trees are critical for protection from predators such as Wolves, and as an important source of food during the winter in the form of browse. Maral favor oak forests. Herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees appear to be of equal importance as sources of food.

Distribution in Iran

The Caspian region, particularly to the east in the Dodangeh Wildlife Refuge and Golestan National Park.

Distribution in the world

The Red Deer has a large global distribution extending from Europe and North Africa through central Asia, Siberia, the Far East and North America.


Threats: The leopard and, to a lesser extent, the wolf and the brown bear are the maral’s main predators; but the toll taken by these beasts nowadays is quite minimal when compared with man’s depredations. In the absence of adequate control, poachers (or hunters) shoot anything before their guns—fawns, stags, or (pregnant) hinds. If this is remorseless and destructive, the clearing and destruction of their habitat, the forests, is no doubt much worse. In fact, the very survival of the maral obviously hinges on the maintenance and protection of sufficiently large areas of undisturbed and pristine forests.
Conservation Status: This species is listed as Least Concern due to a wide circumpolar distribution and presumed large populations. There have been range contractions and presumably population declines in some parts of the species’ range both in Eurasia and North America, but it is not believed to approach the threshold for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List. However, genetic mixing as a result of introductions of deer from different areas is a problem that should be addressed.