The Plight of the Atlas Deer

Originally found in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, the habitat of the Atlas deer is now thought to be restricted to a coastal strip in eastern Algeria, possibly extending into Tunisia. Also known as the Barbary red deer (Cervus elaphus barbarous), the Atlas deer is a subspecies of red deer which is widely distributed across Europe, the Caucasus Mountains, Asia Minor, parts of western and central Asia and Iran. Unlike the red deer found in these areas, the Atlas deer is considered to be ‘near threatened’ from a conservation standpoint and is listed as such by the IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – and is listed by CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Male Atlas deer, or stags, have antlers which can be anything from 80 to 120 cm long and are generally chestnut in color, with strikingly contrasting white tips, but this can vary depending on age, weight, habitats and food source. The stag sheds its antlers in around February-March and by July will have grown a new pair. Between August and October, stags will claim their territories and gather a harem of females (does), all the while fiercely protecting both territory and harem against rivals. The gestation period is eight months and between May and June the following year the doe will give birth to a single speckle-coated fawn.

Factors threatening the continued survival of the Atlas deer include habitat destruction and poaching. These graceful animals were once found in all the cork oak forests of eastern Algeria, but urbanization, agricultural activities and fires have resulted in the destruction and fragmentation of these forests, which has had a negative impact on Atlas deer populations. Sightings of the deer have been reported in the Beni Salah reserve in Guelma, as well as in the forests of El Tarf, Boumézrana and Ouled Bechih, all in the north-east of Algeria, but it is estimated that only between 50 and 60 individuals remain in the wild.