Hello Dear, Four species of Deer in Sri Lanka


All deer in Sri Lanka belong to the family of ungulates. Ungulates are animals whose feet have hooves. All deer are in the genus Cervidae. Deer have hooves and grow antlers. The adult males of the sambur, spotted deer and hog deer are called stags and the females are called hinds.

However the male of the barking deer is called a buck and the female a doe. The young of the sambur is called calves whilst the young of the other deer can also be called fawns. The call of a sambur is referred to as a bell whilst a spotted deer barks.

Four species of deer in Sri Lanka as follows,

  • Sambur (Cervus unicolor)
  • Spotted Deer (Axis axis)
  • Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntiacus)
  • Hog Deer (Axis pornicus).

Sambur (Cervus unicolor)

sumbar 1

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Cervidae

Subfamily: Cervinae

Genus: Rusa

Species: R. unicolor

The sambur is the largest of the four species of deer we have. It is brown coloured and about the size of a large cow. The Sambur is called Gona in Sinhala and Marai in Tamil. It is also erroneously called an Elk.

Sambur are found in the forests in most parts of the country from the lowlands to the highest hills. Normal groupings of sambur are 10-15 animals. They are also seen in single or pairs. Groups of females are also encountered.However, the present situation at Horton Plains is different. In the Horton Plains, Sambur are found in great abundance, where they are seen grazing in the open areas every evening. In general, they attain a height of 102 to 160 cm (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). Sambur breed once a year and one calf is born. Though sambur are poached, due to the difficulty to find them in their thick jungle habitat, they are not killed in the numbers that the spotted deer are.

Dense forest cover and the availability of water influence the distribution of sambur in the wilds. It is both a browser and grazer. It prefers grass and when no grass is available it resorts to browsing on the branches of trees. Fallen fruits and fruits off the low branches of trees are in their menu list too. Sambar are nocturnal or crepuscular. The males live alone for much of the year, and the females live in small herds of up to 16 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.

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 R. unicolor with antler-body proportions more similar to the South China sambar. Currently, seven subspecies of sambar are recognized. The Sri Lankan sambar deer or Indian sambar deer (Rusa unicolor unicolor) is a subspecies of sambar deer that lives in India and Sri Lanka. This subspecies is one of the largest sambar deer species with the largest antlers both in size and in body proportions. Large males weight up to 270–280 kg. Sambar live in both lowland dry forests and mountain forests. Large herds of sambar deer roam the Horton Plains National Park, where it is the most common large mammal.


Spotted deer (Axis axis)

Spotted Deer

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Cervinae
Genus: Axis

Axis deer or in india also known as cheetal is a species of deer that is native in the Indian subcontinent. The species was first described by German naturalist Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in 1777. A moderate-sized deer, male chital reach nearly 90 cm (35 in) and females 70 cm (28 in) at the shoulder. While males weigh 30–75 kg, the lighter females weigh 25–45 kg. The species is sexually dimorphic, males are larger than females, and antlers are present only on males. The antlers, three-pronged, are nearly 1 m (3.3 ft) long.

The Spotted Deer is called a Tith Muwa in Sinhala and Pulli Man in Tamil. The Spotted Deer is the most common member of the deer family found in Sri Lanka. It is found in most parts of the country except in the highest hills. Deer are seen, in the protected areas sometimes in large herds, as large as 30 – 50 females with a few stags.

Deer are seen regularly under trees that are occupied by both species of monkeys, the macaque and the gray langur. This is to pick up the tender leaves, flowers and fruit that are dropped by the monkeys in the course of their feeding. Spotted deer are extremely nervous and are always on the alert for any sign of imminent danger from the leopard or man. The leopard preys on the deer whilst man poaches it. The males can be seen and heard during the rutting season putting their heads back and letting out loud mating calls. Males butt each other during this time and the clashing of antlers make a loud noise. Sometimes the clashing of antlers can also be heard in the still of the jungle night. Males keep on butting each other to win the opportunity to mate. Generally there is one dominant male in a herd of many females, somewhat like a King and his harem. Generally one fawn is born at a time and the young fawn can be seen prancing, leaping and running about for no apparent reason. This really is a way of exercising their growing muscles to ensure that nerves and muscles work in harmony. This is very important to make a getaway from predators.


Hog Deer (Axis porcinus)


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class:   Mammalia

Order:  Artiodactyla

Family: Cervidae

Subfamily: Cervinae

Genus: Hyelaphus

Species: H. porcinus

Two subspecies of hog deer are typically recognized: A. p. porcinus from Pakistan to Myanmar, and the slightly larger A. p. annamiticus from Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The Hog Deer (Axis pornicus) known in Sinhala as the Gona muwa (sambur deer) because its colouring resembles that of a sambur. The hog deer is however much smaller than a sambur. It has a short stocky body and short tail with a white tuft at the end.

Current research suggests that Hog Deer should be included within the genus Hyelaphus, together with calamianensis and kuhlii. Hog deer Native to Bangladesh; Bhutan,Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Introduced to Australia, Sri Lanka and United States. In Sri Lanka Hog Deer is restricted to largely cultivated landscapes within a 35 km2 area, between Ambalangoda and Indurawa on the southwest coast, and inland as far as Elpitiya. It does not occur in any protected area. Hog Deer is thought to have been introduced to Sri Lanka by the Dutch or the Portuguese in the 16th century, or possibly by a Sinhalese ruler in the pre-colonial period or the British later on, suggestions that it is native are doubted because of the absence of records across central and southern India. Vishvanath et al. (2014) recommend genetic studies to further clarify the status of Sri Lanka’s Hog Deer subpopulation.

Hog deer have a stout build with relatively short legs and raised hindquarters. Males are heavier than females, and have much thicker necks. Females are reddish-brown in summer, becoming duller in winter. Mature males are dark brown. An indistinct dark stripe runs along the spine from shoulders to tail. Some adults (especially females) have scattered pale spots in their summer coat (particularly on either side of the darker dorsal line). The underparts are the same color as the back except for the underside of the tail, which is white. Only males grown antlers; these are shed annually. Each antler is three-pronged, with a short brow tine and a terminal fork. Typical antler length for A. p. porcinus is 30-38 cm, and 43-46 cm (with a record of 61 cm) for A. p. annamiticus. Average weight is 30-50 kg. Males average 43 kg, females 32 kg in weight. Fawns weigh 2.0-2.74 kg at birth, and are marked with white spots (although populations from Cambodia and Vietnam may lack these). Young spend the first few weeks of life tucked away in dense cover. They begin to accompany their mothers at 4-5 weeks after birth and are independent by one year. Hog deer populations have experienced dramatic declines in the past few decades, and now survive only in isolated pockets of suitable habitat. Between 1991 and 2012, hog deer in Southeast Asia declined by over 90%, with central Cambodia holding the last remaining scattered populations. Kaziranga National Park (India) is one of the species’ strongholds, with a population estimated at 15,000 individuals.


Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntiacus)

Olu Muwa

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Cervidae

Subfamily: Cervinae

Tribe: Muntiacini

Genus: Muntiacus

Muntjacs, also known as barking deer and Mastreani deer, are small deer of the genus Muntiacus. Muntjacs are the eldest deer, thought to have begun appearing 15–35 million years ago. The present-day species are native to South Asia and can be found in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Indonesian islands, Taiwan and Southern China. They are also found in the lower Himalayas (Terai regions of Nepal and Bhutan) and in some areas of Japan (the Bōsō Peninsula and Ōshima Island). They have been introduced to England. In Sri Lanka the Barking Deer or the Muntjac is smaller than the spotted deer and it is found in all parts of the island in small jungle patches as well as in the larger forests. In Sinhala, it is called Veli Muwa or Olu Muwa and in Tamil Sarugu Man. Though ruminants do not usually have canine teeth, the barking deer have large canine teeth that protrude from under their upper lip. Another unusual feature is that it is only one of the few mammals that have two sets of weapons – tushes and antlers. This chestnut colour is brightest on its back and becomes lighter down the sides. It grows to a height of almost two feet. The barking deer can jump well over ten feet from a standing position. These deer also possess tusk like upper canines measuring about 1 inch long in males. Their body length ranges from 89-135 cm. Their shoulder height and the length of their tail ranges from 40-65 cm and 13-23 cm respectively. The males tend to be larger than the females. And weight average is around 35-40 kgs. In the first year of life, the female muntjac reaches sexual maturity. They are polyestrous with the estrous cycle lasting 14-21 days and the estrus lasting about 2 days. Breeding is not restricted to a specific time of the year. They usually bear just one young at a time. The gestation period is around 180 days and the weight at birth is between 550 and 650 g.

Mouse Deer (Tragulus meeminna)

In addition, the Mouse Deer (Tragulus meeminna) looks like a small deer it is not a member of the deer family. The mouse deer has a three-chambered stomach instead of the four chambers found in a true deer. The Mouse Deer (Tragulus meeminna) are the smallest of hoofed mammals. The Sri Lankan species is also native to India. There are two other species in Asia. Called Meeminna in Sinhala and Atta Man in Tamil. The Mouse deer is a little larger than a domestic cat and weighs about two pounds. It is found in all parts of the island in small patches of jungle and on the edge of the larger forests, generally close to water. They are nocturnal and rarely seen. Mouse deer live in all types of forests and are often found in undergrowth on the edges of forests. They eat mostly grass, leaves, and fallen fruit and berries. They are normally solitary and secretive, except during the breeding season.

Written By

Rtr. Sethil Muhandiram

President 18-19 

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