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Endangered Indian python targets equally endangered Chinese deer

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In China’s Datian Nature Reserve, an endangered subspecies of Eld’s deer (Cervus eldi hainanus) and an equally endangered subspecies of Indian python (Python melurus Schlegel) are supposed to live in symbiotic harmony.

It seems that’s no longer the case, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Under normal conditions, the pythons eat rodents and other animals that would overrun the park and threaten the Eld’s deer’s food supply. But now, an overabundance of pythons finds the snakes turning on the deer for food, and threatening both species as a result.

Park officials say the pythons are breeding too fast, for unexplained reasons. But as a result, they now appear to be eating young Eld’s deer as their other food supplies run low. (This isn’t the only such situation, as our post "Eagle vs. cormorant" noted a few weeks ago.)

Eld’s deer, which received China’s top protected status in 1988, almost went extinct a few decades ago, but careful conservation work increased the subspecies’ population from just 26 in 1976 to more than 1,600 today. Park officials expect to find at least 100 deer fawn each year, but so far, this year’s count is well below that number.

This isn’t good news for the pythons, either. "One python was found dead in April 2008 as its belly was burst open by an antlered buck it had swallowed earlier," reports Xinhua.

Since both species are protected in China, park officials can’t kill any of the pythons to protect the deer. Instead, they have to capture and move them, which doesn’t exactly sound like an easy task.

Balancing the populations of these two species in the long term could be difficult. Eld’s deer populations grow just 15 percent a year under good conditions — about 100 new deer annually. But just one female python can lay up to 50 eggs every year, reports Xinhau. That’s a whole lotta pythons, and they’ll all need something to eat.

Images: A python species (Python molorus molorus) via Wikipedia and Eld’s deer, also via Wikipedia





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