Sambar deer can be found in Southern Asia, from as far North as the Himalayas to Sumatra and Borneo in the South. They’ve also been introduced to the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Their habitat includes tropical rainforests, tropical dry forests, and subtropical forests. Males have been observed to have a home range of about five times larger than the home range of females. In protected reserves in India, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan, sambar have been seen gathering in large herds. In non-protected areas, males live alone and females live in small herds.
Sambar are crepuscular or nocturnal. They feed on grasses, leaves, fruit, and water plants. Unusually for deer, sambar are good swimmers and can frequently be found in shallow water. They also are capable of standing on their hind legs to feed on leaves and, in the case of males, to mark trees far above their heads with their antlers.
Although they have no antlers, female sambar still readily and fiercely defend their young from predators such as tigers, dholes, lion, leopards, and crocodiles. Sambar prefer to face off against predators in shallow water. Usually, several sambar stand side by side against predators and stamp their feet and make loud vocalizations.
Sambar are capable of reproducing year-round but mating peaks in autumn and early winter. Males mate with several females but don’t establish a harem. To attract females, stags may bathe in mud to accentuate the dark colors of their coats (males are typically darker than females). They aren’t exceptionally vocal, although they do make a loud, deep bellow to attract mates. They also stomp on the ground, exposing bare dirt.
After a gestation period of nine months, one fawn is born. From birth, fawns are active and can begin eating solid foods within one or two weeks. Despite being so self-sufficient early on, they stay with their mothers for approximately two years. In the wild, sambar live to be about 12 years old. In captivity, though, they’ve been known to approach 30.
Outside of protected ranges, the population of sambar deer is declining. Introduced populations in Australia have relatively high numbers. Sambar are classified as a Vulnerable species, not yet Endangered. The largest threat to sambar is human hunting and loss of habitat.
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