Some of us who live in Birmingham and the Black Country are used to the wildlife that shares our open spaces, parks and gardens. There are plenty of foxes and badgers for example, as well as smaller animals and a host of birds and insects. Nature though can always surprise us.
At 2.30 in the morning recently I was woken by a continuous barking sound. Similar to but definitely not a dog, it went on for some time: single, loud, medium pitch barks every few seconds. My mind riffled through the possibilities – a bird of some sort, a fox, perhaps even a cat. A moment’s thought dismissed each of these.
Then the penny dropped, it must be a muntjac deer, properly known as Reeves muntjac but also called barking deer. They have been in and around the Sandwell Valley, close to where I live, for some years. Rarely seen (I have only seen one) their presence is usually betrayed by hoof prints in mud or snow. The culprit on this occasion was not visible but was somewhere in the street.
These small deer (a bit bigger than a fox) originated in China. Their rear end is higher than the front, giving them a hunched look. Brought to this country by the Duke of Bedford in the nineteenth century, escapes and releases have led to them being widespread throughout the midlands, southern England and Wales. Unlike other deer they are mainly solitary, although individual bucks and does may be accompanied by their young. Neither do they have a breeding season or ‘rut’ like other deer; they can produce their single young at any time of the year.
As an exotic species muntjac cause conservationists some concern: their taste for woodland plants may prevent coppiced trees regrowing and threaten populations of woodland and other flowers. On the other hand they are equally fond of brambles and ivy, plants which we often try to suppress to help those woodland flowers.
With no natural predators it is likely that the population of muntjac will continue to grow. Suburbia, with its large gardens and quiet corners, seems to be good habitat for them. In future many more of us may catch fleeting glimpses and hear the strange barks of this elusive creature.