HAIKOU, June 2 (Xinhua) -- Chinese conservationists say rapid the propagation of pythons at a nature reserve in south China's Hainan Province has endangered the increase of a rare deer species living there.
Both conservationists and researchers are at a loss to offer efficient ways that will guarantee a success in protection of the rare deer species, Eld's deer or Cervus eldi hainanus in Latin, while reining in the population of pythons from fast propagation around Datian Nature Reserve in southwestern part of Hainan.
Pythons and Eld's deer are both listed for top state protection in China, according to Xu Shiying, chief of the administration for Datian Nature Reserve.
Datian Nature Reserve, which is in Dongfang City and a rainforest base, was established in 1976 with the mission to protect Eld's deer, which used to be on the verge of extinction.
The number of the rare deer species has increased and topped 1,600 at Datian Nature Reserve thanks to conservation efforts in the past three decades.
The exact number of pythons in this nature reserve, however, is not known.
Datian is now home to 690 deer after conservation workers have moved some of the deer to other nature reserves on the island province, according to Xu.
The normal propagation rate of the deer is 15 percent annually. there should be 100 fawns born each year, Xu said.
"We have been patroling the nature reserve and found that the actual number of fawns is far below 100," Xu said.
Conservation workers have spotted deer remains in the pythons' manure. One python was found dead in April 2008 as its belly was burst open by an antlered buck it had swallowed earlier. Another python was also found in early May to have swallowed a muntjac, a kind of minor deer species, according to Xu.
"We can't kill pythons for the sake of protecting Eld's deer, so the only thing we can do is to move pythons elsewhere as long as we find them at Datian," said Xu.
Conservation workers have found and moved 28 pythons from Datian Nature Reserve to Hainan Python Institute since 2007.
Zhang Liling, head of Hainan Python Institute, said it was necessary to have pythons around Datian Nature Reserve to keep an ecological balance there.
"Pythons don't have a natural enemy around Datian, but without the presence of pythons, rabbits, wild boars and other rodents will propagate at an even alarming speed and will eat away limited food sources that Eld's deer depend on," said Zhang, who is also a professor with animal science department of Hainan University.
According to Zhang, female pythons produce 20 to 50 eggs each year, of which, 70 to 80 percent could be hatch successfully.
While echoing Xu's stand about the need to restrict the number of pythons in Datian for the sake of maintaining an ecological balance in the nature reserve, Zhang failed to come up with a clear vision of how to do so.
Experts say Eld's deer, a sub-species of swamp deer and also known as "slope deer," among the locals, were living on Hainan four million years ago, long before any human activity on the island. They numbered just 26 by 1976 as a result of increased human activity and environmental degradation.
The government identified Eld's deer for top protection in 1988. It has been listed as one of the world's most endangered species by the World Conservation Union or the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The natural habitat area for the rare deer species in Hainan Island, including Datian nature reserve, has increased from 1,314 hectares in 1976 to 20,000 hectares, alongside a rise in the population in the deer species.