Chital

Chital are a lightly-built species; males are larger and heavier than females. The bright reddish-brown coat of both sexes is marked with scattered white spots in all seasons. Near the belly the spots may merge to form a horizontal stripe. A dark line runs along the spine from shoulder to tail, and this is bordered by a row of spots. The underparts, including the underside of the tail, are white, and there is a white “bib” on the upper throat. Males alone carry antlers, which have three tines: a brow tine and a terminal fork. Old males may retain a single set of antlers for over 19 months. The antlers typically grow 75-85 cm in length, with a record of 101 cm. When in “hard-rack” (with fully developed antlers), males have prominent thick necks and a dark chevron above and between their eyes.

Chital is listed as Least Concern because it occurs over a very wide range within which there are many large subpopulations. Although it is still declining in some sites (particularly outside protected areas), at the species level any such declines are at nowhere near the rate required to qualify for listing even as Near Threatened. Historical declines may have been higher.

The Chital occurs over 8–30°N in India (including Sikkim), Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (Grubb 2005, Raman 2013). The western distribution boundary is formed by eastern Rajasthan (e.g. Sariska, Ranthambore and Keoladeo Ghana) and Gujarat (e.g. Sasan Gir). The northern boundary runs along the bhabar-terai belt of the foothills of the Himalaya from Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal through Nepal, northern West Bengal and Sikkim to western Assam and the forested valleys of Bhutan below 1,100 m asl. The eastern boundary runs through western Assam (Golapara and Kamrup district as far east as the Dhunsiri River in Darrang district) to the Sunderbans of West Bengal (India) and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka is the southern limit (Gee 1964, Schaller 1967, Raman 2013). Chital occur throughout the rest of peninsular India sporadically in the forested areas (Sankar and Acharya 2004), but in Bangladesh, it now occurs only in the Sundarbans, having vanished from the central, northeast and southeast regions (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008).

Chital has been introduced to the Andaman Islands (India, during 1925–1930; Banerji 1955), Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Croatia (islands of Brijuni; Mitchell-Jones et al. 1999), Moldova, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, Uruguay and the USA (California, Florida, Hawaiian Islands and Texas; Grubb 2005, Raman 2013). These introduced subpopulations have not been mapped. Not all introductions have succeeded: for example, some were introduced to west-central Slovenia (from the Brijuni islands) in the late 1940s or in 1950, but this introduction failed and is now therefore frequently reported as having been of Fallow Deer Dama dama. One male, shot on 12 October 1950 and now in the Natural History Museum of Slovenia, proves the identification (Krystufek 1999). Managed herds occur in parks throughout the native and introduced range and in many other areas.

Chital declined drastically throughout its range up until the first two-thirds of the 20th century (see under Major Threats). Karanth et al. (2010) documented an estimated average extinction rate of 45% over the last 50 years in the Indian sub-continent. It is however “locally” abundant in well protected parts of its range in mixes deciduous habitats. In India it occurs in 123 protected areas and forest tracts (National Wildlife Database, Wildlife Institute of India in Sankar and Acharya 2004). There are some large subpopulations in Nepal (e.g. Moe and Wegge 1994) where the population is probably currently stable and is anticipated to remain so in the immediate future (Hem Sagar Baralin litt. 2008). Thousands survive in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, Bangladesh, and there are a few introducedsub populations on coastal islands in the south (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008).

Chital have no fixed breeding season: males in hard antler may be found throughout the year, and infants may be born in any season. In Central India (Madhya Pradesh), it has been suggested that mating is at its peak in April-May. Males do not maintain a harem, but instead guard estrous females aggressively from other suitors. Fawns are born spotted, although they have shaggy coats which render their spots less conspicuous than in adulthood. For the first two weeks of life, fawns are cached in hiding spots and visited by their mothers for nursing. By four weeks of age, they are fully mobile and follow their mothers (and the rest of the herd) continually.

Chital are most active in the morning and late afternoon, and rest in shaded areas during the midday heat. Although grass forms the majority of the diet, in the dry season they will browse from trees and may even stand on their hind legs to reach leaves. Herds will feed under trees in which Hanuman langurs (Semnopithecus entellus) are feeding, taking advantage of food items dropped by the primates. They are very dependent on water and drink at least once per day.

The Axis deer stands 0.6 to 1 m tall at the shoulder and has a body length of about 1.5 m (Walker, 1964). The body color is reddish with white on the belly, inner legs, and underneath their short tail. The males tend to be darker and to have black facial markings. They also have antlers composed of three tines which can reach lengths of almost a meter. Characteristic white spots occur in both sexes and run longitudinally in rows throughout the duration of the animal’s life (Ables,1977). A dark dorsal stripe runs the length of the animal’s back.

Axis deer occur in several different kinds of herds depending on their age and sex. Matriarchal herds are common and composed of adult females and their young from the present and previous year. Sexually active males follow these groups during the mating season while less active males form bachelor herds. One other type of herd that occurs frequently are called nursery herds which include females with fawns less than 8 weeks old. The males participate in a dominance-based hierarchial system where older and larger males dominate younger and smaller males. There are four different aggressive displays among males; head-down or scare threat, present threat, head-up, and antler threat. Females also partake in aggressive behavior but it is mostly associated with over-crowding at feeding sites. Biting, striking.

The main foods utilized by these deer are grasses as well as flowers and fruits which fall from the forest trees. They will occasionally browse when it is necessary. During the monsoon season, grass and sedge species in a sal forest are an important food source. Another source of nutrition may come from mushrooms which are high in proteins and nutrients and are also found in sal forests.