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Rare Eld's Deer Moving to New Homes

China plans to relocate 500 to 600 Eld's deer, a rare breed endemic to south China's Hainan Province, from their habitat in the Datian Nature Reserve to other protected zones on the island before the end of the year.

A panel of experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Hainan has been investigating unpopulated sections of Changjiang and Ledong counties and Dongfang City in the search for new homes for the deer.

All the new homes should have received approval by mid-November and about 500, or half of the total population of Eld's deer in the reserve, will be gradually relocated before December. The first of them were transferred last Sunday.

Eld's deer used to roam over the entire island, but their numbers were reduced to just 26 in 1976 by human encroachment and the deteriorating environment. Steps taken to protect the species since that time include the establishment of the Datian Nature Reserve in 1976, and intensified research on methods of propagation.

These measures have paid off, with the Eld's deer population growing an average of 15 percent annually.

However, there are now more than 1,000 Eld's deer in the Datian reserve. That puts 76 deer on every square kilometer of land, far above the natural density of 10 to 15 deer per square kilometer. Food shortages next spring could lead to widespread deaths among the deer, especially of the young ones, warned Professor Song Yanling, of the CAS' animal research institute.

Since the early 1990s, forestry departments have relocated more than 80 Eld's deer reared in captivity and 100 wild ones to Bangxi, Ganshiling, Tunchang and other protection zones in Hainan, as well as to Shanghai Zoo, to study problems the deer may have in adapting to environments outside their natural habitat. The efforts have produced positive results.

Under the relocation plan, other animals such as Hainan rabbits and wild boar, which vie for food with Eld's deer, will also be relocated elsewhere, according to a source with the Hainan Provincial Forestry Bureau.

(Xinhua News Agency November 10, 2004)

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