Reindeer, also known as caribou, are the only deer species to be widely domesticated, which was largely due to their importance to several Arctic and sub-Arctic peoples where reindeer were used for meat, hides, milk, and transportation. Today, reindeer are still used for these purposes but are commonly used for tourist entertainment and races too.
Studies have suggested that reindeer first became domesticated in northern Europe as early as the 11th century CE in northern Siberia, though many believe that domestication began much earlier. Today, reindeer are domesticated and herded in nine countries: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Greenland, Alaska (the United States), Mongolia, China, and Canada.
Besides reindeer, there are no other deer species that are widely domesticated. There are several reasons why humans haven’t gone to the trouble of domesticating deer as we do with other animals – so let’s take a look at them.
3 Reasons Why Deer Aren’t Domesticated
1. Deer Are Nervous
If you’ve ever spotted a deer out in the wild then you know you have to be silent. One soft sound and before you know it, the deer is running off into this distance never to be seen again.
That’s the thing about deer – they are very nervous animals that are fearful of humans. This makes them very challenging to domesticate.
2. Deer Need the Right Environment
Deer are excellent jumpers, so you might think that it would be hard to keep them contained and they would frequently escape. While it’s true that deer are excellent jumpers, there is nothing stopping someone from building a high enough fence that would make escape impossible.
The problem is that deer like to have plenty of open space to wander, don’t behave the same all year round, and most importantly require the right kind of habitat to thrive.
Deer are one of the animals that are most susceptible to capture myopathy, which results in muscle degeneration and often death. The main cause is extreme stress, which deer would experience if you attempt to domesticate them.
3. The Economics of Domesticating Deer
If it makes financial sense to domesticate deer, we very likely would have already done so.
Compared to other animals, most deer aren’t big or strong enough to become draft animals unless there is no other choice. Besides using deer as transportation, the difficulty of domesticating deer for the purposes of meat and milk production just wouldn’t be worth it compared to other more easily domesticated animals either, though deer farming is on the rise.
What About Domesticating Deer as Pets?
If you’re wondering if deer can be kept as pets, the answer is still no. It is illegal to keep a deer as a pet in many states.
Despite their cute and adorable appearance, especially that of fawns, even if you were legally allowed to keep a deer as a pet, it would be a terrible idea.
Deer don’t make good pets because they are very hard to domesticate, and as they mature they become very territorial and aggressive and will have no problem attacking you, especially males during the breeding season.