Chinese Water Deer

Hydropotes inermis

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Bowman

They usually have 2-3 young at a time but can have up to 7!


Chinese Water Deer Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Hydropotes inermis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Chinese Water Deer Conservation Status

Chinese Water Deer Locations

Chinese Water Deer Locations

Chinese Water Deer Facts

Main Prey
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Mainly solitary
  • Pair
Fun Fact
They usually have 2-3 young at a time but can have up to 7!
Estimated Population Size
10,000 or less in China; 700,000 in North Korea.
Biggest Threat
Humans: hunting and habitat encroachment.
Most Distinctive Feature
Fang-like tusks in the males.
Distinctive Feature
Small, with hunched hindquarters
Other Name(s)
Korean water deer, vampire deer
Gestation Period
170-210 days
Gentle, easily frightened, but aggressive with others of their own species.
Litter Size
2-3, but can be up to 7
Marshes, swamps, river environments
Humans, leopards, foxes, raccoon dogs
Average Litter Size
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Tender new growth vegetation.
Common Name
Water deer
Special Features
Fang-like tusks
China, Korea
Number Of Species
China, Korea

Chinese Water Deer Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
  • White
Skin Type
10 — 12 years
19 — 28 lbs.
18 — 22 inches
30 — 42 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
5 — 8 months
Age of Weaning
3 — 4 weeks

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“Sometimes called ‘vampire deer’ because of their fang-like tusks.”


Chinese water deer are a small deer species native to China and the Korean Peninsula. One of their most distinctive features is a set of overgrown canine teeth that grow downward into fang-like, partially retractable tusks. This has earned them the nickname “vampire deer.”

Chinese water deer are one of the most prolific deer species, having up to seven young each breeding season. Nevertheless, they like very specific habitats near rivers, swamps, and islands so the availability of habitat limits how quickly they can spread in areas where they have been introduced. The extinction of their natural predators in Korea has made them relatively plentiful there.

Chinese Water Deer Facts

  • Can give birth to as many as seven babies at a time
  • Called “vampire deer” because of their fang-like tusks
  • They live near rivers and swamps and are excellent swimmers.
  • They can bark, yap, whistle, click, squeak, and scream.
  • Males use scent glands to mark their territory and fight each other viciously.

Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Chinese water deer is Hydropotes inermis. “Hydropotes” comes from two Greek words meaning “water” and “drinking” and refers to the fact that this deer frequently lives near rivers and swamps. “Inermis” is a Latin word meaning “unarmed, defenseless.” This name comes from this deer’s lack of antlers.

There are two subspecies of water deer: the Chinese water deer and the Korean water deer. In Korea, they are called gorani. In the past, folk beliefs in Korea forbade hunting the water deer as it was believed to have a fatal bite.

Thanks to their two downward-growing tusks, Chinese water deer are sometimes called “vampire deer” in English-speaking areas.


Chinese water deer are small, narrow-bodied deer with long legs, a long neck, and short rounded ears that can give their faces a “teddy bear” appearance. Their hind legs are longer than their front legs, so that they carry their haunches higher than their shoulders. This can give them a stout, chubby appearance. They run by jumping, similar to rabbits. They do not have antlers.

Young Chinese water deer, or fawns, are born with dark brown coats with white stripes and spots with a white underbelly. At maturity, their summer coats become golden brown interspersed with black. In winter their coats become shaggier, duller, and flecked with grey.

Adult males, or bucks, weigh 24-28 lbs., while females, or does, weigh 19-23 lbs. Their bodies are on average 30-40 in. long, and they stand 18-22 in. at the shoulder. They have short tails, 2.5-3 in long. These are almost invisible except when males display raised tails during mating season.

The most striking features of the Chinese water deer are its fang-like tusks. These are actually elongated upper canines that are tiny in females (0.2 in. long) but can grow up to 3 in. long in stages. These teeth are held loosely in their sockets so the deer can partially retract them while eating or extend them when defending itself or challenging a rival. This is why these deer are sometimes called “vampire deer” in English-speaking countries.

Water deer

Chinese water deer are often called vampire deer due to their tusk-like fangs.


Chinese Water Deer Behavior

As they are are a mysterious species, researchers don’t know as much as they would like about the behavior of Chinese water deer, due to the remote nature of their habitat.

Chinese water deer are small and can easily hide in the thick reeds and underbrush in the marshes, islands, and riverbanks that make up their favorite habitat. Excellent swimmers, they are able to cross miles of China’s vast rivers to get to remote islands.

Chinese water deer are very cautious, coming out mainly at night. They can make a variety of sounds, including barks, yaps, whistles, clicks, and squeaks. When startled, they leap away with arched backs while making a barking noise. When injured, they make a screaming wail.

This species is usually found singly or in pairs. It is unusual for them to travel in herds.

Chinese Water Deer Habitat

Water deer are native to China and Korea. They are found in the lower parts of the Yangtze River and in the coastal regions and islands of east-central China. In Korea, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is host to a large number of water deer. In addition to their preferred river habitat, they can also be found in meadows, fields, and grasslands.

Chinese Water Deer Diet

Chinese water deer are herbivores with four-chambered stomachs, but they cannot digest carbohydrates from plants effectively. This makes them picky eaters, preferring herbs and young sweet grasses rather than more mature grasses. They find their best forage in the lush vegetation of river lowlands. When they get the opportunity to raid farms, they like vegetables, especially beets.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The main predators of Chinese water deer are humans, leopards, foxes, bears, and raccoon dogs. The human threat to them comes from overhunting and loss of habitat.

Water deer are considered a “vulnerable” species by the IUCN, but their status in China is more fragile than in Korea. They have gone extinct in southern and western China and are critically endangered in their remaining habitat in the northeast and central coastal regions and Yangtze River basin. Their numbers in China are estimated at 10,000 or less.

By contrast, in South Korea, there are over 700,000 water deer found all over the country. Their population has grown exponentially because of the extinction of natural predators such as tigers and leopards. The South Korean Ministry of Environment considers them to be “harmful wildlife” because of the damage they pose to agriculture and as a cause of traffic accidents. Some local governments have placed a hunting bounty on them.

After being introduced into a few parks and estates in the United Kingdom, Chinese water deer have escaped into the wild and have grown to a population of several hundred, These may provide additional genetic diversity to help replenish the wild population in parts of China.

Chinese Water Deer Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan

The breeding season, or “rut,” for Chinese water deer lasts from early November to February.

Bucks are highly territorial, marking their territory with urine, feces, scent glands, and breaking off vegetation strategically. They compete with other males for breeding rights over females. Sometimes these competitions are resolved by walking stiffly toward one another and then walking parallel to each other for 30 — 60 ft. to size each other up. If one of them does not back down, they use their tusks to settle the fight by stabbing each other on the head, shoulders, and back. The loser ends the fight by laying with his head and neck flat on the ground, or by running away. Many males bear scars from these vicious fights.

Does are sometimes seen in small groups but disperse at signs of danger. They are not as territorial as males, but before and after the birth of their fawns they will chase other females away to give birth alone. Gestation takes 170-210 days. Fawns are born from late April to June and weigh less than two lbs. at birth. An unusual feature of this species among deer is that they can have a large number of young.

Two to three offspring at a time is typical, but they can have up to seven at once. At birth they are reddish-brown with spots or stripes of white. They grow faster than other similar deer species, and reach sexual maturity at just five to eight months.

The average lifespan of a Chinese water deer is 10-12 years.

Chinese Water Deer Population

Only about 10,000 Chinese water deer can be found in the wild in China is estimated at, while In South Korea, the estimated water deer population is 700,000.

Similar Animals to the Chinese Water Deer

  • Musk deer – Musk deer and Chinese water deer are approximately the same size and weight. Both have hind legs that are longer than their forelegs. Both species have tusks. Musk deer have glands that produce a strong scent. Both are native to Asia and prefer to live near water.
  • Sika deer – Chinese water deer are similar in appearance to sika deer, with the exception to the fact that sikas do not have fang-like tusks. They have similar behaviors, but the Chinese water deer prefers a more swampy habitat, while sika can be found more in forested areas.
  • Red deer – The red deer and the Chinese water deer both can be found in swampy areas. They are similar in appearance and behavior, except that the Chinese water deer is smaller and has distinctive fang-like tusks.

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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals focusing on mammals, geography, and world cultures. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Masters in Foreign Affairs (1992) and a Doctorate in Religion (2009). A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, movies, and being an emotional support human to four dogs.

Chinese Water Deer FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the Chinese Water Deer bite?

Males use their tusks to bite their rivals during mating season or to fight off attacking enemies; otherwise, these animals do not bite.

Does the Chinese Water Deer live only in China?

The water deer has two subspecies that are very similar: the Chinese water deer and the Korean water deer. The Chinese subspecies lives in China; the Korean subspecies lives in North and South Korea. There is also a small population of Chinese water deer in the United Kingdom.

How many Chinese water deer are left in the world?

In China, there are 10,000 or fewer and their numbers are declining. There are several hundred in the United Kingdom. There are 700,000 of the Korean subspecies in South Korea. Their numbers in North Korea are unknown.

What sounds do Chinese water deer make?

They make a wide variety of sounds to communicate in different situations. They can bark, yap, squeak, click, and even scream.

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  1. Wikipedia / Published September 22, 2022 / Accessed October 11, 2022
  2. Britannica / Accessed October 11, 2022
  3. ADW: Animal Diversity Web / Accessed October 11, 2022
  4. Everywhere Wild / Published May 2, 2021 / Accessed October 11, 2022