Sambar deer Rusa unicolor

About this pest

KEY CLUES

Distinctive features; A very large deer (double the weight of a red deer), uniformly brown coat, long bushy tail with black tip, large and round ears, antlers slightly smaller than red deer with fewer tines.

Size: Adult males (stags) have an average shoulder height of 1.37 m and a body length of 2.1 m. The shoulder height of adult females (hinds) averages 1.15 m. Stags usually weigh up to 227 kg, but can reach 245 kg, while hinds weigh 113–157 kg.

Droppings: Droppings (pellets) are black, pointed at one end, and average 20 × 10 mm. Often deposited in piles in vegetation cover.

Footprints: Cloven hoof with two pointed toes and rounded heel. Typically narrower than red deer footprints.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Males rub bark off trees with their antlers. They browse the understorey.

Eye shine: Yellow-silver.

Distribution: Only in Manawatu and Bay of Plenty (North Island).

WHY ARE SAMBAR DEER PESTS?

Ecological impacts

Sambar deer are not thought to be having any significant impacts on the New Zealand environment. This is partially due to their restricted range, but also because they tend to occur on forest margins and patches of scrub, and predominantly browse on pasture grassland. It may also reflect their wider dietary preferences, compared to other deer, or be due to relatively low density.

Other impacts

Sambar deer are common grazers on farmland particularly in the Manawatu and can damage root and maize crops. They also browse young pine trees and strip bark in plantation forests. Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is a risk to the deer and cattle farming industry, but may not be present in sambar deer, although they have the potential to carry it.

Read more about sambar deer.


Droppings

Separate

Sambar deer droppings are usually observed as piles or groups of scattered pellets. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. Droppings (pellets) are black, pointed at one end and about 20 × 10mm. They are often found in vegetation cover around the edge of pasture, where sambar deer like to pause before venturing out into the open at night to feed.

Can be confused with:
Sambar deer droppings can be confused with other deer species in areas where their range overlaps.

Clumped

Sambar deer droppings are usually observed as piles or groups of scattered pellets. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. Droppings (pellets) are black, pointed at one end and about 20 × 10mm. They are often found in thick cover around the edge of pasture, where sambar deer like to pause before venturing out into the open at night to feed.

Can be confused with:
Sambar deer droppings can be confused with other deer species in areas where their range overlaps.

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Footprints and Tracks

Hooves

Like all other species of deer, sambar deer have cloven hooves, with each hoof divided into two toes (called cleaves). Dew claws, small claw like digits, are positioned slightly higher up the leg to the rear of the hoof.

Sambar deer footprints are often seen in muddy patches of the forest floor and in sand on river berms. They 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 visible. The hoofprint of a large stag will not exceed 70mm by 45mm. Prints left by hinds (females) will be smaller, narrower and often shallower. Sambar deer footprints are often narrower than those from red deer, but not consistently so.

Can be confused with:
Although typically narrower, sambar deer footprints can be confused with those of red deer and other deer species whose ranges overlap that of sambar deer. They can also be confused with feral goat, sheep and feral pig footprints. However, deer footprints tend to be narrower than those left by sheep or pigs.

Trails and Runs

Sambar deer create networks of trails in thick cover throughout the areas in which they live. They also make use of cattle trails (in scrubby country) and timber extraction drag trails.

Can be confused with:
Sambar deer trails can be confused with the trails of other deer species and pigs in areas where their ranges overlap. Wallabies can also make trails. The height of vegetation clearance can indicate which species use the trail. Sambar deer are one of the taller trail-making species.

Wallows

Both male (stag) and female (hind) sambar deer wallow (bathe) in muddy pools, particularly during the summer.

Can be confused with:
Other species of deer and pigs also make use of wallows.

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Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

Sambar deer graze and browse the understorey, but they are believed to not have as great an impact on the vegetation as other deer species. They primarily graze but are flexible feeders and will, at least in their home range, switch to feeding on leaves, buds flowers and fruits. Sambar deer may not be as selective as other deer species, which can completely eliminate favoured plant species from the understorey. It may also be because Sambar deer also eat a lot of other foods, in addition to shrubs, including native and introduced grasses, flax and reeds. However, sambar deer have been shown to have a significant impact in Australia where they were also introduced, and it is not known whether the lack of effects seen here is due to lower sambar deer density, insufficient research, or because there are truly minimal impacts on native vegetation.

Can be confused with:
Sambar deer browsing sign can be confused with that of other deer species, sheep, and goats.

Bark

Male sambar deer (stags) will habitually rub their antlers on trees creating bare sections where the bark has been removed. Sometimes there will be shredded bark at the base of the tree. Trees can die if they are ring barked. Sambar deer can also eat bark, particularly that of coniferous trees.

Can be confused with:
Bark rubbing by sambar deer looks similar to bark rubbing by other species of deer and rubbing by pigs. The height of the rubbing, and any fur left, might help distinguish which species is responsible.

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Kill Sign

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Other Clues

Smell

Sambar deer have prominent scent glands above their eye sockets (preorbital) that secrete a strong-musk smelling substance. Males (stags) will mark their territories by rubbing secretions on to trees and shrubs.

Can be confused with:
The smell of sambar deer is similar to that of other deer species.

Sound

Sambar deer are generally quiet, but can produce screams or high pitched sounds when alarmed. Males (stags) will roar during the breeding season to attract females.

Can be confused with:
Sounds made by other deer species can be confused with those of sambar deer.

Body covering

Hair can be snagged on branches and shrubs at any time of the year, and may be particularly common when the animals are moulting. During the breeding season (rut) stags will leave muddy hair on the tip of tree branches and shrubs they have been thrashing against.

Can be confused with:
Sambar deer hair can be confused with hair from other deer species, particularly where their ranges overlap.

Eye shine

Yellow-silver.

Can be confused with:
The eye-shine of other deer species.

Distribution

In New Zealand, sambar deer only occur in the North Island, where there are two main herds, one in the Manawatu and one in the Bay of Plenty. The Manawatu population occurs along the coastal belt between Levin and Harakeke, and inland along the Turakina and Whangaehu Rivers. In the Bay of Plenty, they are found south-east of Rotorua around the Waiotapu area, north-east to Whakatane and along the western fringes of the Urewera Ranges.

Other

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

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MORE ABOUT SAMBAR DEER

Origin

The sambar deer is a forest deer from South-East Asia. Sambar deer in New Zealand are descended from a single stag and hind introduced from Sri Lanka in 1875.

Description

Sambar are a large deer (slightly heavier than red deer), with a uniformly brown coat, long bushy tail with black tip, and large and round ears. Mature males (stags) have a ruff around their neck. Antlers are smaller than red deer (both in spread and length), have only three tines (branches) and are look more robust compared to red deer.

Size and weight

The shoulder height of adult stags is approximately 1.37 m and they have a body length of approximately 2.1 m. For hinds shoulder height is approximately 1.15 m. Stags usually weigh up to 227 kg, but may reach 245 kg, while hinds weigh 113–157 kg.

Behaviour

Sambar deer typically leave cover after dark and range widely to find food, returning by dawn.

Diet

Sambar deer inhabiting pine forests in the Manawatu graze on grass, emerging shoots of briar (Rosa canina), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), and the emerging tips of young pines. The bark of older pine trees is sometimes torn and eaten. They will eat pasture crops such as maize, as well as root crops such as swedes. They also eat flax (Phormium tenax), fescue (Festuca arundinacea), sweet grass (Glyceria declinata), and reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). Rumination is more efficient in sambar deer than other deer species, allowing them to utilise coarse foods such as bark and flax more easily.

Habitat

In the Manawatu, sambar deer spend a lot of time feeding on farmland and lying up in small areas of remnant cover and shelterbelts, or in pine forests. In the Bay of Plenty, they inhabit lake edge, scrub patches, swamps, flax-bordered streams and the western part of the Urewera Ranges.

Distribution

See distribution clue.

How to get rid of sambar deer

Contact your local Department of Conservation or Regional Council office for advice (see Next Steps). The most commonly used form of sambar deer control is hunting. In the Manawatu, a permit is needed to hunt sambar deer and these are balloted. As with other species of deer, sambar deer are likely to be very susceptible to incidental by-kill from aerial 1080 drops targeting 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., & Nugent, G. (2005). Sambar deer. In King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 436-442). 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.