Vanishing Species – Sambar Deer


An article by Mohan Pai

The Indian Sambar Deer

Cervus unicolor niger

The largest Indian deer that carries the grandest of horns.

 

The Sambar is the largest Indian deer and carries the grandest horns. Height at shoulder can be up to 150 cm. A full grown stag weighs between 230 – 325 kg. The male members of this species have antlers that can grow up to a length of 1 m. The coat is coarse and shaggy, males have a mane about the neck and throat. The general color is brown with grayish tinge. Females are lighter in tone. Older stags become very dark, almost black.Sambar is found in the wooded areas of India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. It is the most common deer species in the world, covering many countries in Asia. It is also one of the larger members of the deer family. Their population is large and spread to almost every corner of India.

Habits:
Sambar prefers staying in the forested hill-sides preferably near cultivation. They are almost nocturnal, feeding mainly at night and retiring by daybreak. Their diet is mainly grass, leaves, various kinds of wild fruit. The capacity of so heavy an animal to move silently through dense jungle is amazing. Sambar takes to water readily and swims with the body submerged, only the face and the antlers showing above surface. These animals have a life expectancy ranging between 16 – 20 years.
 
Breeding:
Their breeding period is mainly during the months of November and December. The gestation period is 6 months. The males by this time have shed their antlers. A new pair start growing almost immediately. It is during this period of their life cycles when they are seen less frequently. The males mostly lead solitary lives and are rarely seen associating with each other, except on some occasions during the rutting season. Sambar stags fight for territory and attempt to attract hinds by vocal and olfactory display. The stag’s harem is limited to a few hinds.
They are the favorite prey species of the tiger. The Sambar has extremely sharp senses of hearing and smell. Its alarm call which is a loud “dhonk” is taken very seriously, unlike that of the spotted or barking deer, by anyone interested in knowing the whereabouts of a predator. A repeated call is accepted as a definite indicator.
 

Pic courtesy: haryanaonline.com
 
These deer are seldom far from water and, although primarily of the tropics, are hardy and may range from sea level up to high elevations such as the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest zone in the Himalayan Mountains sharing its range with the Himalayan musk deer. These deer are found in habitats ranging from tropical seasonal forests (tropical dry forests and seasonal moist evergreen forests), subtropical mixed forests (conifers, broadleaf deciduous, and broadleaf evergreen tree species) to tropical rainforests. Their range covers a vast majority of territory that is classified as tropical rainforest, but their densities are probably very low there. In these areas, the deer probably prefer clearings and areas adjacent to water. In Taiwan, sambar along with sika deer have been raised on farms for their antlers, which they drop annually in April to May.
This deer has been seen congregating in large herds in protected areas such as national parks and reserves in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The subspecies of Indian sambar in India and Sri Lanka are the largest of the genus with the largest antlers. Populations that inhabit the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo seem to have the smallest antlers in proportion to their body size.
 

References: The Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater, Wikipedia

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