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The sambar (Rusa unicolor) is a large deer native to the Indian subcontinent, southern China and Southeast Asia.[1] Although it primarily refers to R. unicolor, the name "sambar" is also sometimes used to refer to the Philippine deer (called the "Philippine sambar") and the Javan rusa (called the "Sunda sambar"). The name is also spelled sambur or sambhur.

Sambar
Sambhar Deer by N A Nazeer.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Cervinae
Genus: Rusa
Species: R. unicolor
Binomial name
Rusa unicolor
(Kerr, 1792)
Rusa unicolor.png
Range of the sambar deer
Synonyms
  • Cervus unicolor
Sambar doe with fawn

Contents

DescriptionEdit

The appearance and the size of sambar vary widely across their range, which has led to considerable taxonomic confusion in the past; over forty different scientific synonyms have been used for the species. In general, they attain a height of 102 to 160 centimetres (40 to 63 in) at the shoulder and may weigh as much as 546 kg (1,204 lb), though more typically 100 to 350 kg (220 to 770 lb).[2][3] Head and body length varies from 1.62 to 2.7 m (5.3 to 8.9 ft), with a 22 to 35 cm (8.7 to 13.8 in) tail.[4] Individuals belonging to western subspecies tend to be larger than those from the east and females are smaller than males.[5] Among all living cervid species, only the moose and the elk can attain larger sizes.[6]

 
Sambar stag browsing.

The large, rugged antlers are typically rusine, the brow tines being simple and the beams forked at the tip, so that they have only three tines. The antlers are typically up to 110 cm (43 in) long in fully adult individuals. As with most deer, only the males have antlers.[5]

The shaggy coat can be anything from yellowish brown to dark grey in colour and, while it is usually uniform in colour, some subspecies have chestnut marks on the rump and underparts. Sambar also have a small but dense mane, which tends to be more prominent in males. The tail is relatively long for deer, and is generally black above with a whitish underside.[5]

Adult males and pregnant or lactating females possess an unusual hairless, blood-red spot located about halfway down the underside of their throats. This sometimes oozes a white liquid, and is apparently glandular in nature.[7]

Distribution and habitatEdit

 
at Sasan Gir

The sambar is distributed in much of southern Asia as far north as the south-facing slopes of the Himalayas, mainland Southeast Asia including Burma, Thailand, Indochina, the Malay Peninsula, South China including Hainan Island, Taiwan, and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. In the Himalayan foothills, Myanmar and eastern Taiwan it ranges up to 3,500 m (11,500 ft). It inhabits tropical dry forests, tropical seasonal forests, subtropical mixed forests with stands of conifers, broadleaved deciduous and broadleaved evergreen trees, to tropical rainforests, and seldom moves far from water sources.[1]

The sambar prefers the dense cover of deciduous shrubs and grasses,[7] although the exact nature of this varies enormously with the environment, because of their wide range across southern Asia. Home range sizes are probably equally variable, but have been recorded as 1,500 ha (3,700 acres) for males and 300 ha (740 acres) for females in India.[5]

Ecology and behaviourEdit

 
Sambar attacked by dholes, Bandipur National Park

Sambar are nocturnal or crepuscular. The males live alone for much of the year, and the females live in small herds of up to sixteen individuals. Indeed, in some areas, the average herd consists of only three or four individuals, typically consisting of an adult female, her most recent young, and perhaps a subordinate, immature female. This is an unusual pattern for deer, which more commonly live in larger groups. They often congregate near water, and are good swimmers.[5] Like most deer, sambar are generally quiet, although all adults can scream or make short, high-pitched sounds when alarmed. However, they more commonly communicate by scent marking and foot stamping.[citation needed]

Sambar feed on a wide variety of vegetation, including grasses, foliage, browse, fruit, and water plants, depending on the local habitat.[7] They also consume a great variety of shrubs and trees.[5]

Sambar have been seen congregating in large herds in protected areas such as national parks and reserves in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In Taiwan, sambar along with sika deer have been raised on farms for their antlers, which they drop annually in April to May and are highly prized for use as knife handles and as grips for handguns.[8]

Stags wallow and dig their antlers in urine soaked soil and then rub against tree trunks.[7] Sambar are capable of remarkable bipedalism for a deer species, and stags will stand and mark tree branches above them with their antlers.[9] A stag will also mark himself by spraying urine on his own face with a highly mobile penis.[7] Despite their lack of antlers, female sambar readily defend their young from most predators, something that is relatively unusual among deer. When confronted by pack-hunting dholes or domestic dogs, a sambar lowers its head with an erect mane and lash at the dogs. Sambars prefer to attack predators in shallow water. Several sambars may form a defensive formation, touching rumps and vocalising loudly at the dogs.[7] When sensing danger, a sambar stamps its feet and makes a ringing call known as "pooking" or "belling".[9]

They are favourite prey of tigers and Asiatic lions. In India, the sambar can comprise up to nearly 60% of the prey selected by the Bengal tiger.[10] Anecdotally, the tiger is said to even mimic the call of the sambar to deceive it while hunting.[10][11] They also can be taken by crocodiles, mostly the sympatric mugger crocodiles and estuarine crocodiles. Leopards and dholes largely prey on only young or sickly deer, though they can attack healthy adults as well.[1]

ReproductionEdit

 
Sambar hind with young stag.

Though they mate and reproduce year-round, sambar calving peaks seasonally. Oestrus lasts around eighteen days. The male establishes a territory from which he attracts nearby females, but he does not establish a harem. The male stomps the ground, creating a bare patch, and often wallows in the mud, perhaps to accentuate the colour of his hair, which is typically darker than that of females. While they have been heard to make a loud coarse bellow, rutting stags are generally not vocal.[5] Large dominant stags will defend non-exclusive territories surrounded by several smaller males[9] which they have bonded and formed alliances with through sparring. When sparring with rival males, sambar lock antlers and push, like other deer, but, uniquely, they also sometimes stand on their hind legs and clash downward into each other[7] in a manner similar to species of goat-antelope. Females also fight on their hind legs and use their forelegs to hit each other in the head.[5]

Courtship is based more on tending bonds rather than males vocally advertising themselves.[7] Females moving widely among breeding territories seeking males to court.[5] When mounting, males do not clasp females. The front legs of the male hang loosely and intromission takes the form of a "copulatory jump".[7][9]

Gestation probably lasts around eight months, although some studies suggest it may be slightly longer. Normally only one calf is born at a time, although twins have been reported in up to 2% of births. Initially weighing 5 to 8 kilograms (11 to 18 lb), the calves are usually not spotted, although in some subspecies there are light spots which disappear not long after birth.[5] The young begin to take solid food at 5 to 14 days, and begin to ruminate after one month.[12] Sambar have lived for up to 28 years in captivity, although it is unlikely that they often survive more than twelve years in the wild.[5]

Taxonomy and evolutionEdit

Genetic analysis shows that the closest living relative of the sambar is probably the Javan rusa of Indonesia.[13] This is supported by reports that sambar can still interbreed to produce fertile hybrids with this species.[5]

Fossil sambar are known from the early Pleistocene, although it is very similar in form to early deer species from the Pliocene, with less of a resemblance to more modern cervines. The species probably arose in the tropical reaches of southern Asia, and later spread across its current range. Epirusa and Eucladoceros have both been proposed as possible ancestors of the living species and its closest relatives.[5]

SubspeciesEdit

 
Tiger attacking a sambar in Ranthambore

The subspecies of sambar in India and Sri Lanka are the largest of the genus with the largest antlers both in size and in body proportions. The South China sambar of Southern China and Mainland Southeast Asia is probably second in terms of size with slightly smaller antlers than the Indian sambar. The Sumatran sambar, that inhabits the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, and the Bornean sambar seem to have the smallest antlers in proportion to their body size. The Formosan sambar is the smallest Rusa unicolor with antler-body proportions more similar to the South China sambar.

Currently, seven subspecies of sambar are recognised,[5][14] although many others have been proposed.

Subspecies Common name Geographic range
R. u. boninensis[15] Bonin sambar deer Bonin Islands (extinct)
R. u. brookei Borneo
R. u. cambojensis
 
Mainland Southeast Asia
R. u. dejeani South China sambar deer Southern and southwestern China
R. u. equina
 
Malayan sambar deer Sumatra
R. u. hainana Hainan sambar deer Hainan, China
R. u. swinhoii
 
Formosan sambar deer Taiwan
R. u. unicolor
 
Sri Lankan sambar deer India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka

Introduced animalEdit

Sambar deer have been introduced to various parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.[16]

AustraliaEdit

 
Young sambar

In Australia, hunting sambar is a popular sport. Australian hunting fraternities prize large sambar trophies.[17] Excessive numbers of sambar deer affect native plants, threatening some species with extinction.

Sambar were introduced into Victoria at Mount Sugarloaf in the 1860s, in what is now Kinglake National Park, and at Harewood Estate near Tooradin.[18] They quickly adapted to the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp and thereafter spread into the high country, where today the state's herd may number as high as 100,000 animals. Later releases were at Ercildoune Estate near Ballarat, Wilsons Promontory, and French Island in Western Port. Another release occurred on the Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory.[19] They are now found throughout Australia's northern and eastern coasts, in the states of Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

In Victoria, sambar deer have been listed as a threat to biodiversity under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 because they reduce the number of native plant species.[20] The animals feed on some rare and endangered plants. More than 60 plant species have been identified as directly or indirectly threatened by sambar within Victoria.

Adult male sambar deer can significantly damage plants, removing most branches on some shrubs and sometimes girdling trees by thrashing their antlers on shrubs and sapling trees. They also feed on seedlings, fruit, or seeds of many plants. They leave territorial marks to advertise their territory.[21]

The spread of sambar has been steady in both NSW and Victoria, with animals being seen on many southern Victorian beaches since 1980, and as far east as Western Port and the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

There is a considerable debate about how they should be managed. Conservation groups believe their environmental effect outweighs their social value. Hunting organisations disagree and want to preserve deer populations for future generations. Sambar deer are protected wildlife game species in Victoria and New South Wales, and a game licence is required to hunt them. They are declared pest species in all other Australian states and territories and can be hunted at any time with no bag limits. Environmental and conservation groups want them declared a feral species in all states, due to their exploding populations and the harm to biodiversity and native species.

In 2008/2009, 35,000 sambar were removed from public land in Victoria, many from national parks, by amateur hunters. This is a small fraction of the 40% of individuals in a sambar population that need to be removed to stop population growth.[22]

New ZealandEdit

In New Zealand, sambar deer roam the coast and gullies in Horowhenua District, Manawatu District, Rangitikei and Whanganui. Until recently they were protected, but the Department of Conservation has now removed hunting regulations surrounding them, allowing them now to be hunted year round.[23]

United StatesEdit

Sambar deer were introduced onto St. Vincent Island, Florida, in 1908[24] and increased to about 50 individuals by the 1950s. White-tailed deer also live on St. Vincent Island; however they inhabit the highlands while the sambar deer mostly live in the lowlands and marshes. To ensure that the sambar deer population does not disrupt the native whitetails, hunting permits have been issued since 1987 to regulate the population. Each year about 130 permits are offered for the three-day hunt. This maintains a sambar deer population of 70–100 individuals.[25] They do not herd, but occur in groups of four or five animals, possible family groups. Little is known about the sambar deer in Florida.[26]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d Timmins, R.J.; Kawanishi, K.; Giman, B.; Lynam, A.J.; Chan, B.; Steinmetz, R.; Sagar Baral, H.; Samba Kumar, N. (2015). "Rusa unicolor". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  2. ^ Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.), Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult (2005), ISBN 0789477645
  3. ^ "Comparative Placentation". Placentation.ucsd.edu. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Boitani, Luigi (1984) Simon & Schuster's Guide to Mammals. Simon & Schuster/Touchstone Books, ISBN 978-0-671-42805-1
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Leslie, D.M. (2011). "Rusa unicolor (Artiodactyla: Cervidae)". Mammalian Species. 43 (1): 1–30. doi:10.1644/871.1. 
  6. ^ "Deer – Department of Primary Industries". Dpi.vic.gov.au. 3 January 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Geist, V. (1998). Deer of the world: their evolution, behaviour, and ecology. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. pp. 73–77.
  8. ^ "Handle Materials". The Knife Connection. Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d Schaller, G. (1967). The Deer and the Tiger: A Study of Wildlife in India. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. pp. 134–148. 
  10. ^ a b Ramesh, T.; Snehalatha, V.; Sankar, K. & Qureshi, Q. (2009). "Food habits and prey selection of tiger and leopard in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, India" (PDF). Journal of Scientific Transactions in Environment and Technovation. 2 (3): 170–181. 
  11. ^ Perry, R. (1965). The World of the Tiger. p. 260. ASIN: B0007DU2IU
  12. ^ Semiadi, G.; et al. (1993). "Growth, milk intake, and behaviour of artificially reared sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) and red deer (Cervus elaphus)". Journal of Agricultural Science. 121 (2): 273–281. doi:10.1017/S0021859600077157. 
  13. ^ Emerson, B.C. & Tate M.L. (1993). "Genetic analysis of evolutionary relationships among deer (subfamily Cervinae)". Journal of Heredity. 84 (4): 266–273. PMID 8340615. 
  14. ^ Grubb, P. (2005). "Rusa unicolor". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 670–671. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  15. ^ Pocock, R.I. (1943). "The Skull-characters of some of the Forms of Sambar (Rusa) occurring to the East of the Bay of Bengal. — Part III. Rusa nigricans and Rusa boninensis". Annals and Magazine of Natural History. 10 (63): 191–196. doi:10.1080/03745481.1943.9728010. 
  16. ^ LONG JL 2003. Introduced Mammals of the World: Their History, Distribution and Influence (Cabi Publishing) by John L. Long (ISBN 9780851997483)
  17. ^ Pearce, Ken (1992). Walking Them Up. Melbourne: Australian Deer Research Foundation. pp. xi–xv. ISBN 095934389X. 
  18. ^ "Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor)". Australian Deer Association. 2017. Retrieved 19 January 2017. 
  19. ^ Bentley, Arthur (1978). An introduction to the deer of Australia, with special reference to Victoria. Melbourne: Ray Manning for the Koetong Trust, Service Fund, Forests Commission, Victoria. pp. 32–37. ISBN 0724116893. 
  20. ^ "Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 Processes List" (PDF). Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. State Government of Victoria. December 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2017. 
  21. ^ OpenDocument Media Release: New Plan Needed To Manage Impact Of Sambar Deer. Minister for Environment & Climate Change (28 November 2007)
  22. ^ Hone, J.; Duncan, R. P.; Forsyth, D. M. (2010). "Estimates of maximum annual population growth rates (rm) of mammals and their application in wildlife management". Journal of Applied Ecology. 47 (3): 507–514. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01812.x. 
  23. ^ Deer: DOC's work. Department of Conservation (date=20 November 2013)
  24. ^ "Sambar Deer – Cervus unicolor". Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 
  25. ^ Henry Cabbage (May–June 2006). "Going after 600-pound sambar deer in Florida!" (PDF). Florida Wildlife Magazine: 39–41. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2009. 
  26. ^ Field Guide to Mammals. 2002. ISBN 0-679-44631-1.

External linksEdit