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Genetic evidence indicates the red deer as traditionally defined is a species group, rather than a single species, although it remains disputed as to exactly how many species the group includes.The closely related and slightly larger American elk or wapiti, native to North America and eastern parts of Asia, had been regarded as a subspecies of red deer, but recently it has been established as a distinct species.Red deer have different colouration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with grey or lighter colouration prevalent in the winter and more reddish and darker coat colouration in the summer.The Barbary stag (which resembles the western European red deer) is the only member of the deer family represented in Africa, with the population centred in the northwestern region of the continent in the Atlas Mountains. 3000 animals counted in late 2012) lives in the Oostvaarders Plassen, a nature reserve. In the UK, indigenous populations occur in Scotland, the Lake District, and the South West of England (principally on Exmoor).It is a ruminant, eating its food in two stages and having an even number of toes on each hoof, like camels, goats and cattle.European red deer have a relatively long tail compared to their Asian and North American relatives.The male deer of the British Isles and Norway tend to have the thickest and most noticeable manes. A soft covering known as velvet helps to protect newly forming antlers in the spring.European red deer antlers are distinctive in being rather straight and rugose, with the fourth and fifth tines forming a "crown" or "cup" in larger males.
Large red deer stags, like the Caspian red deer or those of the Carpathian Mountains, may rival the wapiti in size.
It also inhabits the Atlas Mountains region between Morocco and Tunisia in northwestern Africa, being the only species of deer to inhabit Africa.
Red deer have been introduced to other areas, including Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina.
Subtle differences in appearance are noted between the various subspecies of red deer, primarily in size and antlers, with the smallest being the Corsican red deer found on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and the largest being the Caspian red deer (or maral) of Asia Minor and the Caucasus Region to the west of the Caspian Sea.
The deer of Central and Western Europe vary greatly in size, with some of the largest deer found in the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe.