Only two species of ungulates (hoofed mammals) are native to Marin County, tule elk (Cervis elaphus nannodes) and Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus). In the 1940s, European fallow deer (Dama dama) obtained from the San Francisco Zoo were released at Point Reyes. When Point Reyes National Seashore was established in 1962, fallow deer were well established within the boundaries of the National Seashore. The fallow deer population was estimated to be 500 in 1973 (Wehausen, 1973) and that number increased to 860 by 2005 (National Park Service, unpubl. data).
Fallow deer have an unusual mating system. During the fall mating season (or rut), male fallow deer establish areas known as leks where they display to potential mates (Hirth, 1997). This behavior is unique among deer and elk, but it is similar to breeding systems used by grouse and a few other birds and mammals. Formation of leks in ungulates decreases the number of aggressive encounters in which dominant males are involved when the local male density becomes too high, because the spatial stability of territories in leks reduces the number of aggressive encounters between males (Hovi et al., 1996; Pelabon et al., 1999).
A fallow deer lek is typically an area of about 100-150 m2 and typically includes two to five males. Using their hooves and antlers, each male clears away most or all of the vegetation and digs a rutting pit that he defends throughout the breeding season.