Sika deer most probably originated from the Japanese Islands in north eastern Asia. One stag and three hinds were the original breeding stock for all Sika in Ireland. These were introduced by Lord Powerscourt in 1860. A few years later some Sika from Powerscourt were moved to enclosed parks in Fermanagh, Kerry, Limerick, Down and Monaghan. However our present wild deer herds mostly originated as escapees from these parks in the early 20th century during the troubles.
The main herds of wild Sika deer are concentrated in Kerry, Wicklow, Tyrone and Fermanagh with some establishing herds in Dublin, Kildare, Carlow, Cork and Donegal.
While some claims have been made, the number of Sika and their hybrids in Ireland are unknown as no national deer census have been carried out. It is easiest to see Sika deer when they are actively grazing, mainly at dawn or dusk. Sika are extremely shy and one should take great care to approach carefully from downwind. Sika have a preference for acid soils and will quickly establish in young pine plantation. They are opportunistic and will colonise a variety of woodland habitats with grazing.
The antlers of the stag are branched and can have up to four pints on each. The rump has an almost concealed white patch with white surrounding hair. When alarmed the white rump patch is magnified and exposed, which is distinctively heart shaped. Coat coloration gets progressively lighter from the ridge of the back to the underbelly. The lighter browns of summer change to grey browns and almost black in Winter.
Sika are our smallest deer with stags up to 80cm at the shoulder and weighting 50-60kg. Adult females (hinds) are less than 70cm tall and weight 35kg.
Sika deer are primarily grazers but will eat herbs, heather, young tree shoots and farmed root crops as the opportunity presents itself. The mainly feed in the morning and late evening.
Group size in Sika is usually up to ten animals, consisting of females, follower offspring and non breeding males. Stags on the other hand only join the herds during the rut. Antler development in stags usually reaches it’s potential in 7-8 year olds. However at full maturity antler development is more dependant on nutrition and health than age. They will shed antlers in spring and growth starts immediately. A skin covering called velvet covers the antlers while growing and is scrapped off to reveal hard antlers before September. Like Red deer, Sika have pointed or spike like antlers, unlike the palmate of Fallow.
Day light controls the timing of the rut which is in late September to early October. Stags can be heard either clashing antlers or emitting a ‘whistle’ which sounds high pitched at the start and ends in a low pitched moan. Sika stags will be subdued into submission by being pushed backwards. Mating areas or stands are marked by a facial scent. This is a territorial signal to other stags to keep away. Territorial rutting areas are the norm in establishing herds. However in developing populations stags tend to move to seek out hinds and then gather them together.
Hinds can conceive at one and a half years of a age and in the absence of conception, ovulate at 21 day cycles. Pregnancy last over 7 months and calves are born in early June and weaning usually occurs in spring.
Sika deer and our native Red Deer are of the same genus Serves and can interbreed. The resulting hybrids are also fertile, this is a major concern in preserving the genetic purity of both Red and Sika. There is a disagreement as to whether interbreeding only occurs in captive (penned or park) mixed herds. Interbreeding in the wild is certainly rare. Many believe that the Red and Sika herds of Killarney are still genetically pure, however most Sika-like deer in Leinster have some ‘Red’ blood.
Sika are protected under the Wildlife Act 1976 and may be hunted under licence. Stags may be hunted from September 1st to December 31st and Hinds from November 1st to February 28th. Of the three Irish deer species, Sika pose as the greatest pest to forestry and agriculture. They can eat leader shoots and damage bark with their teeth and antlers. In farm land they have a liking for root crops and cereals.
Wild Deer Association of Ireland is fully committed to the conservation of Irish Deer and the protection of habitat. The Association also offers to promote the interests of legitimate hunters and offers guidelines to same with meeting on Topical issues, Code of Conduct/ Safety, Target Shoots etc.