Sika deer Cervus nippon

About this pest


Distinctive features: Black dorsal stripe, white rump, chestnut brown sides with white spots variable in size and extent.

Size: In New Zealand, males have a body length of about 1.4m and females of about 1.3 m. Shoulder height is 0.5 to 1m. Males weigh about 63kg and females about 50kg.

Droppings: Pellets are left in pellet groups. Individual pellets are 10–15mm × 8–12mm, and are usually smaller and less adherent than red deer.

Footprints: Cloven hoof, tapered in the front, round at the rear. Sometimes showing dew claws. Difficult to tell apart from the footprints of other deer.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: They browse the understorey. Males rub bark off trees with their antlers.

Eye shine: TBC.

Distribution: Central North Island.


Ecological impacts

Sika deer inhabiting the central North Island have reached high densities and commonly browse on plant species that are unpalatable to other deer species e.g. beech species and ferns. This is thought to have resulted in sika deer having a higher impact on forest regeneration than other deer species elsewhere in New Zealand. In the Kaweka Range, browse by sika deer may be preventing the regeneration of mountain beech in a number of areas, or maintain areas of open canopy for longer than when fenced or professionally hunted.

Other impacts

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is a risk to the deer and cattle farming industry. TB is known to occur in wild red and fallow deer, although they are generally thought to be ‘spillover’ hosts i.e. TB is more likely to be found in deer inhabiting areas where the possums have TB and are at high densities, rather than through deer to deer transmission. TB has not been observed in sika deer but, as with many species of introduced mammals, they have the potential to carry it.

Read more about sika deer.



Sika deer droppings are usually observed as groups of scattered pellets. They are usually less adherent than pellets from red deer, so are less likely to be stuck together. When they are fresh, they have a moist appearance and are either black or dark brown, but over time dry out and fade to a dull light brown colour. Individual pellets are approximately 10mm to 15 mm long by 8mm to 12 mm wide. From a distance they look like small balls, but on closer examination are found to be elongated and more pointed at one end. Pellets can be irregular in shape.

Can be confused with:
Sika deer droppings can be confused with the droppings of other deer species in areas where their ranges overlap.

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Footprints and Tracks


Like all other species of deer, sika deer have cloven hooves, with each hoof divided into two toes (also known as cleaves). Dew claws, small claw like digits, are positioned slightly higher up the leg to the rear of the hoof.
Sika deer footprints are often seen in muddy patches of forest floor or on alpine tops, and in sand on river berms. They characteristically show two pointed toes, although on harder ground a poorly defined heel is sometimes all that is obvious. Sometimes if the ground is very soft, or the deer has been moving quickly the toes become splayed and impressions from the dew claws are visible.

Can be confused with:
Sika deer footprints look similar to the footprints of other deer species. They can also be confused with goat, sheep and pig footprints. Deer footprints tend to be narrower than those left by sheep or pigs.

Trails and Runs

Sika deer repeatedly use the same tracks and trails through the forest for travelling and feeding and these can become well worn. If trails are recently used, fresh droppings and vegetation browse will be seen along them.

Can be confused with:
Sika deer trails can be confused with the trails of other deer species and pigs in areas where their ranges overlap. They may also be confused with wallaby trails. The height of vegetation clearance can indicate which species use the trail.


During the breeding season ‘rut’ (between March and May), adult male sika deer (stags) make scrapes in the ground with their forefeet and antlers which server as territorial markings. They sometimes urinate in them and rub their neck and head in them, creating wallows.

Can be confused with:
Wallows created by sika stags look similar to those of red stags.

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Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

Sika deer browse most of the understory species that other deer species do e.g. broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), Pseudopanax species, fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata), wineberry (Aristotelia serrata) and Coprosma species. However, they also eat the seedlings and saplings of beech tree species and ferns in addition to these highly preferred species, including species that are considered less palatable to other deer species. This is because they may be better adapted to digesting fibrous forage.

Can be confused with:
Browse by sika deer can be confused with browse by other deer species, sheep, and goats.


Male sika deer (stags) often rub bark off a tree using their antlers. This can kill the tree, particularly if the bark is removed from right around the tree (ring barking).

Can be confused with:
Bark rubbing by other species of deer and by pigs looks similar to bark rubbing carried out by sika deer. The height of the rubbing and fur left behind might help distinguish which species is responsible.

Plant leaves

When sika deer have been browsing leaves, several of the leaves will be removed from the stem, and some remaining leaves will have been bitten in half.

Can be confused with:
Sika deer browse is difficult to distinguish from the browse of other species of deer, goats, or sheep. Often the best way of determining which species has been browsing leaves in an area is through a process of elimination i.e. by determining which species inhabit the area, and looking for footprints, droppings, and tufts of fur left behind.

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Kill Sign

Kill sign is not applicable because sika deer are herbivores (eat plants only).

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Other Clues


In New Zealand, sika deer are found in the central North Island in the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Ranges, extending to southern Urewera, the Ruahine Range and the southern and western part of Tongariro National Park. There have also been illegal releases in Northland, Taranak and the Wellington regions.


Recently used sika deer wallows can have a strong musky smell, because stags urinate and defecate in them.

Can be confused with:
The wallows of other deer species and pigs have a similar look and smell to those of sika deer.


Sika deer are more vocal than other deer. Both sexes use high pitched shrill whistles (or they bark) when disturbed. They will repeatedly whistle while fleeing a disturbance. During the breeding season, sika stags will roar, but it is very different to the roar of a red deer and has been likened to the ‘hee-haw’ sound of a donkey. Stags are also known to produce groans and raspberry-blowing sounds, while female sika deer use a goat-like bleat to communicate with their young.

Can be confused with:
Some sika deer sounds may be confused with those of other deer species, but the shrill whistles and ‘hee-haw’ roars are distinctive to sika.

Body covering

Sometimes sika deer hair can be found where the deer have been rubbing against a tree

Can be confused with:
The fur of other deer species could be confused with sika deer fur.


Antlers cast by stags are often a reliable way to distinguish between deer species.

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Sika deer are native to eastern Asia (with 13 subspecies recognised) occurring in Japan, Korea, China, eastern Russia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Sika is derived from shika, the Japanese word for deer.


Sika deer are a moderately-sized deer, but are smaller and more lightly built than red deer. The summer coat of sika deer is chestnut brown with a cream belly, and white spots often occur on the back and flanks. In winter the coat is a dull grey. One of the distinctive features of sika deer is a black dorsal stripe, which extends from the ears to the base of the tail. They also have a white rump patch which they flare when alarmed.

The antlers of sika stags are smaller and thinner than those of red deer and the brow tines (lowest antler spikes) branch 2–3 cm above the coronet (base of the deer antler), whereas in red deer they branch close to the coronet.

Size and weight

Sika deer measured in New Zealand have a body length of approximately 1.4 m in males and 1.3 m in females. Males weigh an average 63 kg and females an average of 50 kg.


Sika deer are very wary and are more vocal than other deer when alarmed. They can detect human scent and often treat human footprints as an invisible barrier. For most of the year they live in single sex groups. Hinds (female deer) will be seen with yearling females and fawns. Mature and immature stags (male deer) will hang out together, although old stags are often solitary.

In New Zealand, the breeding ‘rutting’ season for sika deer is between late March and early May. Stags start forming breeding territories from early March. Sika stags roar to attract females and ward off competing males. Their roar sounds like the ‘hee-haw’ of a donkey. Stags may round up hinds into a harem, but they can also pursue individual hinds. Sika stags will respond to the roar of red stags and there have been anecdotal reports of red and sika stags fighting.

Sika are most active at night or at dawn and dusk, but can also sometimes be seen foraging during the day, grazing singly or in small herds. Sika deer do not migrate large distances between summer and winter, but can migrate to lower valleys during the winter. Sika deer are good swimmers and can also jump over objects up to 1.7 metres tall.


Sika deer have a similar diet to other deer species in New Zealand, but are also known to eat some plants that are considered unpalatable to other deer.


In the central North Island, sika deer are found in all the dominant forest types, manuka shrublands, and forest clearings. Occasionally in spring and summer they will range above the treeline onto alpine tops.

Distribution in New Zealand

See distribution clue.

How to get rid of sika deer

The most commonly-used methods to control sika deer are ground-based hunting and hunting from helicopters. As with other species of deer, sika deer can be very susceptible to incidental by-kill from aerial 1080 drops targeting possums and rabbits. However, with the exception of 10% 1080 foliage gel, no other poisons are currently registered for use on deer in New Zealand. See the Department of Conservation's sika deer hunting page for guidance and local area office contact details or contact your local regional council for advice (link to Next Steps).


Duncan R., Ruscoe W., Richardson S., & Allen, R. (2006). Consequences of deer control for Kaweka mountain beech forest dynamics. Landcare Research Contract Report No. LC0607/021. Prepared for the Department of Conservation, Lincoln, New Zealand: Landcare Research.

Fraser W. (2005). Sika deer. In King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 428-436). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.