Although it is found in dense, moist forests throughout South America, all the way from Colombia to northern Argentina, little is known about this timid and elusive deer.
Red brocket deer (Mazama americana) make their home in pristine primary forests, and can also be found in disturbed secondary forest, and even in rainforest plantations. They can be found from sea level to elevations of around 500 meters (1600 feet). Red brocket deer are reddish-brown in color, with darker, partially black legs, and a grayish head and neck. Their inner thighs and the underside of their tail are white. With their white-spotted reddish-brown bodies, young red brocket fawns recall the famous character Bambi from the Walt Disney movie of the same name.
The red brocket deer is the largest species of brocket deer. Adults tend to grow to a shoulder height of around 67 to 80 centimeters (26 to 31 inches), and weigh between 24 and 48 kilograms (approximately 50 to 100 pounds); however, some males may grow much larger and weigh up to 65 kilograms (140 pounds). In addition to their larger size, male red brocket deer can be distinguished from females by their small, backward-sloping antlers.
Although few studies have been made of this shy creature, red brocket deer are known to be both diurnal and nocturnal in their habits. They are solitary animals, and when they are spotted in the forest it is usually as lone individuals or mating pairs. Red brocket deer do not form herds. Females usually give birth to a single fawn, although twin births are also quite common. The female cares for her young alone. Mothers hide their fawns in the undergrowth of the forest floor, returning regularly to nurse them.
Red brocket deer of both sexes reach maturity when they are around a year old. While they prefer to feed on fallen fruit, when this food source is not available they will also feed on leaves and even fungi. In the wild, red brocket deer are thought to live for between seven and twelve years. They serve as a keystone Amazon rainforest species by dispersing seeds across the forest floor. In addition, their grazing habits help to shape the structure of the rainforest by defining the composition of plant communities.
Because they are vulnerable to apex rainforest predators such jaguars and pumas, for which they are a major food source, red brocket deer tend to spend their entire lives among dense vegetation. Their main defenses against predators are standing in place in an effort to remain unseen, or when danger is imminent swimming across rivers or lakes. When they become alarmed, they may also snort or even stamp their hooves.
Traditionally, red brocket deer have been hunted by humans for food. Their meat is still sold in the markets of Amazon cities and towns, although today the main threat they face comes from habitat loss resulting from manmade deforestation.