Rusa (Javan) deer Rusa timorensis

About this pest

KEY CLUES

Distinctive features: Medium-sized deer, with pointed ears and a long narrow tail.

Size: Average shoulder height of mature rusa stags (males) is 1.06 m and they weigh 70-135 kg. Mature hinds (females) average 0.81 m at shoulder height and weigh c.70 kg. The total body length of a male is 1.56 m, with a tail length of 18-25 mm.

Droppings: Pellets look round, but are often more pointed at one end. Occur in large groups known as pellet groups.

Footprints: Two pointed toes, rounded heels. Can measure up to 60 × 38 mm.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Males rub bark off trees with their antlers. They also browse and graze native vegetation.

Eye shine: TBC

Distribution: Primarily in the eastern Bay of Plenty, south-east and east of Rotorua.

WHY ARE RUSA DEER PESTS?

Ecological impacts

Much of the area inhabited by rusa deer in New Zealand is already highly modified e.g. scrub-hardwood forest or bracken fern/manuka shrubland. However, in the eastern part of their range they are expanding into the Urewera ranges and are contributing to the browsing pressure already exerted by red deer on the mixed beech-podocarp-hardwood forests.

Other impacts

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is a risk to the deer and cattle farming industry, but may not be present in the rusa deer population, although they have the potential to carry it.

Read more about rusa deer.


Droppings

Separate

Rusa deer droppings are usually observed as groups of scattered pellets. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. When they are fresh they have a moist appearance and are either black or dark brown, but over time they dry out and fade to a dull light brown colour. From a distance they look like small balls, but on closer examination they are found to be elongated and more pointed at one end. In size they are somewhat smaller than sambar deer pellets which average about 20 × 10mm, but the size range of each species overlaps making them largely indistinguishable.

Can be confused with:
Rusa deer droppings can be confused with the droppings of other deer species in areas where their ranges overlap, and with goat and sheep droppings.

Clumped

Rusa deer droppings are usually observed as groups of scattered pellets. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. When they are fresh they have a moist appearance and are either black or dark brown, but over time they dry out and fade to a dull light brown colour. From a distance they look like small balls, but on closer examination they are found to be elongated and more pointed at one end. In size they are somewhat smaller than sambar deer pellets which average about 20 × 10 mm, but the size range of each species overlaps making them largely indistinguishable.

Can be confused with:
Rusa deer droppings can be confused with the droppings of other deer species in areas where their range overlaps, and with goat and sheep droppings.

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Footprints and Tracks

Hooves

Like all other species of deer, rusa deer have cloven hooves, meaning each hoof is cloven into two toes (called cleaves). Dew claws, small claw like digits, are positioned slightly higher up the leg to the rear of the hoof.
Footprints characteristically show two pointed toes, although on harder ground, a poorly defined heel is sometimes all that is visible. Sometimes if the ground is very soft, or the deer has been moving quickly, the toes become splayed and impressions of the dew claws are left. The hoofprints of a mature rusa stag can measure up to 60mm long by 38mm wide. Those of a hind are somewhat smaller.

Can be confused with:
The footprints of rusa deer can be confused with those of other species of deer in areas where their ranges overlap. They can also be confused with the footprints of pigs and goats.

Trails and Runs

Rusa deer are sedentary by nature, and make networks of regularly used trails connecting feeding and resting areas. These trails can become well worn. If trails are recently used, fresh droppings will be seen along them.

Can be confused with:
Rusa deer trails can be confused with the trails of other deer species in areas where their ranges overlap.

Wallows

Male rusa deer use wallows during the rut and their wallows (muddy pools) are very similar to those made by other deer.

Can be confused with:
Rusa deer wallows can be confused with wallows made by other deer species.

Dens and nests

Sometimes in clearings with dense bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), Rusa deer will make bedding sites. These may be connected by tunnel-like trails through the bracken.

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Have a look at all of our tracks.

Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

Rusa deer prefer to graze farm pastures and root crops, as well as grasses and forbs in forest clearings, if they have access to these habitats. In the scrub-hardwood forest of the Galatea Valley (south east of Rotorua), rusa deer browse on three-finger, bracken, flax tips and young manuka.

Can be confused with:
Other deer species also browse on the same plant species.

Bark

Male rusa deer (stags) often rub bark off a tree using their antlers. This can kill the tree, particularly if the bark is removed from right around the tree (ring barking). Stags rub their antlers on trees for two main reasons: 1) to remove the velvet from their antlers (autumn), and 2) and to mark territory.

Can be confused with:
Bark rubbing by rusa deer may be confused with bark rubbing by other species of deer or rubbing by pigs. The height of the rubbing and hair caught in the bark might help distinguish which species is the culprit.

Plant leaves

When rusa deer have been browsing leaves, several of the leaves will be completely removed from the stem, and some remaining leaves will have been bitten in half.

Can be confused with:
Rusa deer browse is difficult to distinguish from browsing by other species of deer, and from browsing by goats, sheep or cows. Often the best way of determining which species has been browsing leaves in an area is through a process of elimination i.e. by determining which species inhabit the area, and looking for footprints and droppings.

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Kill Sign

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Other Clues

Body covering

Male rusa deer (stag) have a reddish-brown coat during the summer changing to dark greyish-brown during the winter. Female (hind) coats are a pale yellowish-red in summer and greyish-red during the winter. The chin, throat and underparts are cream in colour. Fawns are paler in colour, with a white chin, throat and underparts. The texture of the coat is coarse, except on the underparts. The individual hairs are flat, crimped and banded towards the tips.

Can be confused with:
Rusa deer fur can be confused with the fur of other deer species if the distribution overlaps (red deer and sambar deer are common in the same areas as rusa deer).

Distribution

In New Zealand, rusa deer are found in the North Island east and south-east of Rotorua and are slowly expanding into the forests of the Urewera ranges. In total, it is estimated that rusa deer occupy an area of 565km2.

Other

Antlers cast by stags are often a reliable way to distinguish between deer species.

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Have a look at all our other clues.


MORE ABOUT RUSA DEER

Origin

The common name ‘rusa’ is the Malay word for ‘deer’. Rusa deer are originally from the eastern Indonesian archipelago.

Description

Rusa deer have pointed ears and a long narrow tail that is slightly bushy at the tip. Male coats are a dark reddish-brown in summer and greyish-brown in winter, while females have a pale yellowish-red coat in summer, becoming greyish-red in winter. The chin, throat and belly in both sexes are cream coloured. During the rut (breeding season), rusa stags have a dark coloured mane. Their antlers are three-tined (pronged) and during the rut they can be festooned with bundles of greenery collected by ‘ploughing’ vegetation.

Size and weight

Rusa are medium sized deer. The average shoulder height of mature rusa stags (males) is about 1.06 m and they weigh 70-135 kg. Mature hinds (females) are around 0.81 m at shoulder height and weigh about 70 kg. The total body length of a male is 1.56 m, with a tail length of 18-25 mm.

Behaviour

Rusa deer are very agile, and when disturbed will flee at high speed over rough terrain with their head low and their neck outstretched, even in open country. This behaviour is peculiar to rusa deer. They are semi-nocturnal and spend most of the day lying in thick cover. During the rut, their behaviour is similar to that of red deer, with rusa stags using a short deep roar to herd hinds into harems. They also wallow, and entangle vegetation into their antlers, which may be used to intimidate other stags.

Diet

Rusa deer rely mainly on woody plants and pasture grasses. The Galatea population graze farm pasture and root crops such as carrots and swedes at night. Within the scrub-hardwood forests they browse on three-finger, bracken, flax tips and the heads of young manuka, but will also eat clover, stinging nettle and hook grass in clearings.

Habitat

Rusa deer prefer to graze farm pastures and root crops, as well as grasses and forbs in forest clearings, if they have access to these habitats. There are three main native habitat types within the current range of rusa deer in New Zealand: 1) scrub-hardwood forest dominated by rewarewa (Knightia excelsa), manuka (Leptospernum scoparium), three-finger (Pseudopanax colensoi), interspersed with bracken fern (Pteridium esculentum); 2) stands of bracken fern and manuka that back on to forest plantations; 3) red beech (Nothofagus fusca), northern rata (Metrosideros robustus), and tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa) forest in the Ureweras.

Distribution in New Zealand

See distribution clue.

How to get rid of it

Contact your local Department of Conservation or Regional Council office for advice (see Next Steps). The most efficient way to get rid of rusa deer is through sustained hunting pressure. Recreational hunters were so successful at maintaining control of the Galatea population that private land owners tried to protect remaining animals on private land. As with other species of deer, rusa deer are likely to be susceptible to many vertebrate toxins spread during control operations aimed at possums and rabbits. However, with the exception of 10% 1080 foliage gel, no other poisons are currently registered for use on deer in New Zealand.


FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Fraser, W. (2005). Rusa deer. In King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 442-446). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, D. E., & Mittermeier, R. A. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook of the mammals of the world. Vol. 2. Hoofed mammals (p.417).  Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.