Location in Zoo
Lifestyle and Lifespan
Southern pudus are a small deer, reaching between 24 and 29 inches tall, and 33 inches long. Their legs are short and thick, ending in small hooves with an interdigital gland enclosed in a deep pocket. The snout is short, preorbital glands are visible below and in front of the eye, and their ears rounded. Males have spike-like antlers which may grow to 3.5 inches long. Southern pudus are covered in a coarse dark red-brown fur, which varies in color by the season, often more reddish during the warmer months and dark brown in cooler months. Juvenile southern pudus have three rows of lighter spots, which are lost by 8 weeks of age.
Southern pudus are also known as Chilean pudus. Both common names refer to the same species, Pudu puda. The Northern pudus, Pudu mephistophiles, are smaller and have shorter legs, with a darker fur color that ranges dark brown to black. Male southern pudus grow small spike-like antlers that grow to about 3 inches tall. These antlers point backward, so that they will not snag on vegetation as the pudu moves around. Antlers are used for sparring with other males, and will be shed after the mating season ends and regrown the next year.
Communication and territory marking is done through scent with urine, droppings, antler rubs, preorbital gland secretions, and scratching the ground with their hooves.
Southern pudus are found in temperate rainforests and deciduous forests, preferring areas with a thick understory. They are found in both mature and disturbed or second growth forests, and prefer bamboo thickets. Areas with lots of thick vegetation are used mainly for cover, while they will feed at the edges of forests and in shrublands.
Southern pudus are found in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina, between the Maule River in the north and Chiloé province in the south. Southern pudus are also found on Chiloé Island.
The Southern pudu eats a variety of vegetation, including leaves from shrubs and small trees, fruits, berries, vegetables, bark, bamboo, ferns, vines, grass, flowers, nuts, fungi and succulent sprouts. They prefer to eat at the forest edge rather than deep in the forest.
Southern pudus are one of the most important prey animals for Chilean pumas, making up to 50% of their diet. Southern pudus also can modify the abundance, composition and growth of plants in their habitat, and aid in seed dispersal. The tunnels they make in underbrush provide not only shelter to themselves, but also to other small animals as well.
Southern pudus are active day and night, but tend to be most active during late afternoon, evening and morning. They rest and groom during the middle of the day. They are also more active on windy days than on calm days.
Southern pudus will make tunnels and paths in the dense understory of their habitats, which allow them to move at full speed when escaping from threats and lead to hidden places where they can rest safely.
Southern pudus are solitary, and will defend a territory. Territory overlapping happens between males and females, but is not tolerated between males or between females. In protected care, the southern pudu will form dominance hierarchies and be very territorial. The structure of the hierarchy is one dominant male, then subordinate males, juvenile males, followed by females as the most subordinate. Females will have their own hierarchy as well. Females will be with their fawn through spring and summer, before they become independent.
The mating season is March to April, and females are polyestrous breeders with cycles every 11 days. Males will mate with multiple females (polygynous mating system), and a male and female will pair up for a couple of days while the female is in estrus. The male will approach the female in a low, slow couch. Female receptiveness is tested by sniffing and licking, and if she is receptive, the male proceeds into grooming. The male will mount the female repeatedly over the course of 3 days for a couple of seconds each time.
Females give birth between October and February, typically to one fawn, though cases of twins have been reported on occasion. At birth, the fawn is 7.5-8 inches tall and weighs only 1-2 pounds. During the first month, the mortality rate is 25%. They reach adult size in two months, lose their spots at 3 months, and are sexually mature as young as 6 months. They often stay with their mother until they are 8 months of age.
According to an assessment made by the IUCN in 2019, the southern pudu is listed as Vulnerable, and are on Appendix I on CITES (1975), making hunting of them in Argentina and Chile illegal. Additionally, the southern pudu is listed as vulnerable in Chile and is considered a “Special Value Species” in Argentinian national parks. There are a large number of protected areas within the pudu range.
The species was first formally described in 1782. It is thought that the total population has declined 50% in the last 500 years, and that in the last 12-15 years it has declined 20%.
The biggest threat to the southern pudu is habitat loss; between 1550 and 2007, nearly half of the native forests in the Valdivian Ecoregion in Chile were lost, and this area comprises most of the pudu distribution. Other threats include attacks by domestic dogs, which are adept at using the same trails and tunnels that the pudus use to escape predators. Invasive deer and wild boar can affect the understory upon which the pudu depends for cover. Car strikes and poaching are additional threats.
Exhibit & Educate
The hairs of the fur are coarse, long and hollow, providing good insulation and buoyancy when in the water.
If the Pudu detects a threat, it will bark to sound the alarm before running into their tunnels for escape. If moving is not safe, the Pudu will freeze to avoid detection by movement.
Young male Pudu grow their first antlers between 9 and 12 months of age, and then shed and regrow them yearly. New antler growth occurs mostly in July and is complete by November. They are shed by February.
Submissive posture is exhibited by laying down with the neck stretched out, or crouching with the tail and neck down and avoiding eye contact. Aggressive or dominant behavior is exhibited by (in males) pointing their antlers at an opponent, or standing still with the snout raised.
Pudu get most of their hydration from the plants that they eat.