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12 Types of Deer Species & Where To Find Them In India

types of deers where to find them in india

Types of Deer Species Found in India

India, a country of diverse ecosystems ranging from the snow-capped Himalayas to the lush green forests of the Western Ghats, is home to an equally diverse array of wildlife. Among the most elegant and revered inhabitants of these landscapes are the deer, a group of animals that hold a unique position within the ungulate family. Characterized by their distinctive antlers, which they shed annually, deer differ significantly from their ungulate counterparts that bear permanent, unbranched, and hollow horns. These antlers, deciduous in nature, branched and solid, are a testament to the deer’s unique place in the animal kingdom. Belonging to the order Artiodactyla, which encompasses mammals with even-toed hooves, deer in India present a fascinating topic for exploration due to their diversity, ecological significance, and conservation status.

India is a sanctuary for 12 distinct deer species, showcasing a remarkable variety within this single country. While most species are represented singularly, the musk deer stands out with four different species marking their presence across various Indian landscapes. Additionally, some deer species are known through their subspecies, adapted to distinct environments within India, underlining the adaptability and ecological variety of these creatures. However, amidst this diversity, there lies a pressing concern: several of these species are highly endangered, with their existence confined to specific locales within the vast Indian subcontinent.

This article aims to shed light on the deer of India, exploring their ecological roles, the rich tapestry of species and subspecies that inhabit this land, and the conservation efforts in place to protect these majestic animals. From the well-known Chital to the elusive and endangered Hangul, each species contributes uniquely to India’s biodiversity and ecological balance. As we delve into their world, we uncover the challenges they face, the conservation successes, and the ongoing efforts to ensure that future generations may continue to witness the grace and beauty of India’s deer in their natural habitats.

Also read: The Top 10 Most Elusive Wildlife Species Found in India

 

  1. Indian Chevrotain or Mouse Deer (Moshciola indica)

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Indian Chevrotain, known as the smallest deer in India, stands out as a distinct ruminant due to its three-chambered stomach, unlike the typical four-chambered one found in other deer. Unlike their relatives, Indian Chevrotains lack antlers but possess long canines, a trait observed in both males and females. However, only adults display canines that protrude below the lip line. This primitive species has relatives in Southeast Asia and West Africa, highlighting its widespread but unique family connections.

Commonly referred to as the mouse deer, this species tends to create its dens within tree hollows. Due to its shy nature, small size, effective camouflage, and infrequent vocalizations, it often goes unnoticed. The Indian Chevrotain prefers a variety of forest habitats, including deciduous, semi-evergreen, and plantation forests, up to an elevation of 1850 meters. It shows a particular affinity for moist forests and is frequently found near riverine patches and waterways, although it can also inhabit tall grasslands. This adaptability allows it to thrive in diverse environments, albeit discreetly.

 

Mouse deer in Indian national park

 

Distribution: The Indian Chevrotain is distributed throughout Peninsular India, covering the entirety of Southern India. Its northernmost range extends to Palamu in the East, Kanha in Central India, and Udaipur in the West. This distribution highlights the species’ adaptability and presence across a wide geographic area, from the lush landscapes of the south to the more varied terrains of central and western regions.

 

 

  1. Musk Deer (Moschus spp.)

IUCN Status: Endangered

India is home to four species of Musk Deer, all of which are distributed across the Himalayan region. These species include the Himalayan Musk Deer (Moschus leucogaster), the Kashmir Musk Deer (Moschus cupreus), the Alpine Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster), and the Black Musk Deer (Moschus fuscus). Similar to the mouse deer, these species do not possess antlers, setting them apart from many other deer species.

The musk deer is relatively small, standing about 3 feet tall and weighing between 11 to 18 kilograms. It features a sandy brown coat with a distinctive white-yellow stripe extending from the throat to the chin. The body of the musk deer has a forward slope due to its hind legs being almost a third longer than its forelegs, contributing to its unique silhouette. Another characteristic feature is its large, rounded ears and protruding canine teeth.

Musk deer reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age and typically produce a single offspring, usually born in June or July. These animals have a lifespan of up to 20 years. Communication among musk deer is primarily through olfaction; they use scent marking strategies involving defecation and secretions from the caudal, musk, and interdigital glands to communicate.

Their preferred habitats are alpine and subalpine zones, including oak, conifer, and rhododendron forests in the Himalayas. These environments provide the musk deer with the necessary cover and food sources to thrive in the challenging conditions of high altitudes.

 

musk deer in Indian national park

 

Distribution: The distribution of the four species of Musk Deer in India spans various regions across the Himalayas, each with its specific habitat range. The Himalayan Musk Deer is located in the Himalayan region, ranging from central Kashmir through Himachal Pradesh up to Sikkim. This indicates a broad distribution across the northern part of the country, covering a significant stretch of the Western and Eastern Himalayas.

The Kashmir Musk Deer is confined to Western Jammu and Kashmir, suggesting a more localized habitat within the northernmost part of India.

The Alpine Musk Deer’s habitat extends across the alpine zones of the central and Eastern Himalayas, indicating its preference for high-altitude environments. This species has adapted to life in the rugged terrain and thin air of the alpine regions, spanning a wide area that likely includes a variety of ecological niches.

Lastly, the Black Musk Deer is found in the North-Eastern Himalayas, with its range extending from Sikkim eastwards through Arunachal Pradesh.

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  1. Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak)

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Barking Deer, also known as the Indian Muntjac, stands out among India’s small forest ruminants as one of the more common species, alongside the Mouse Deer. It is distinguished by its glossy reddish-brown coat and contrasting greyish or whitish underparts. Like many deer species, female Barking Deer do not possess antlers; instead, they feature bony frontal ridges, adding to their unique appearance.

An exceptional characteristic of the Barking Deer is its chromosomal makeup, setting it apart in the mammalian world. Males have a diploid chromosome number of seven, while females possess six, marking the species as having the lowest recorded chromosome number among mammals.

Although Barking Deer are not territorial creatures, males establish home ranges spanning approximately 6-7 square kilometers, which they regularly mark with scent to communicate their presence. Their preference for hilly and moist areas situates them primarily within thick deciduous and evergreen forests. However, their adaptability is noteworthy, as they can also be found on the fringes of forests, near crops, plantations, and in secondary forests.

 

Indian MuntJak Deer specie in India

 

Distribution: The Barking Deer, with its wide-ranging adaptability, is distributed throughout most of Peninsular India and the Terai, as well as in northeastern India and the lower regions of the Himalayas. This extensive distribution underscores the species’ ability to thrive in a variety of ecological settings, from the dense forests of the northeast to the lush foothills of the Himalayas, and across the diverse landscapes of Peninsular India.

However, the Barking Deer is notably absent from certain regions within India, including Kutch, Saurashtra, and the arid parts of northwestern India. This absence highlights the species’ preference for more moist and forested environments, as opposed to the dry and desert-like conditions prevalent in these areas.

 

  1. Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor)

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The Sambar, India’s largest deer species, epitomizes the quintessential forest dweller with its shaggy, dark brown coat and majestic, spreading antlers. Distinguished by its unique physical features, including deep lachrymal pits, robust three-tined antlers, a long tail, and a darker coat than most deer, the Sambar stands out among its peers. Both males and females boast a well-developed throat mane and possess a distinctive sore spot on the throat, adding to their unique characteristics.

The Sambar has developed intriguing behaviors to navigate its environment and evade predators. Often found feeding in shallow waters, they are known to take to water when pursued by predators like the Dhole, creating loud splashes to disorient their pursuers. A notable sign of alarm in Sambars is the stamping of their feet or the raising of a hoof as if to stamp. Despite their large size, Sambars move through the forest with remarkable silence. In the summer months, they seek out mudwater to wallow in, a behavior that helps them cool off.

Habitat-wise, the Sambar is remarkably versatile, inhabiting a wide range of forest types. This includes mixed deciduous forests, arid and dry forests, shola grasslands, and areas with pine and oak, as well as evergreen forests. They show a preference for moist habitats featuring undulating terrain, and they often choose river and stream banks for daytime resting spots.

 

Sambar deer in corbett national park

 

Distribution:  Sambar is found throughout India, with exceptions being the high Himalayas, the Kutch desert, and coastal regions. This wide distribution makes it the only large forest deer with such an extensive range across the country, highlighting its significance and adaptability within India’s diverse ecosystems.

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  1. Hangul or Kashmir Red Deer (Cervus hanglu)

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Kashmir Red Deer, also known as the Hangul, is a notable species found in the northern regions of India, particularly in Kashmir. This large deer is distinguished by its dingy brown coat, accented by a unique rump patch that blends orange-white hues, bordered by a distinctive broad black band. Its black tail further adds to its striking appearance. The configuration of its rump patch aligns the Hangul more closely with Asian deer species rather than the European Red Deer, indicating a specific evolutionary path within the Cervidae family.

The antlers of the Hangul are remarkable, featuring a large size with five tines. The brow tine starts notably above the burr, and the fourth and fifth tines culminate in a terminal transverse fork, making their antler structure distinct. Additionally, the antlers showcase a well-developed bez tine, adding to the visual complexity and allure of the stags.

Behaviorally, the Hangul exhibits a migratory pattern that is closely tied to the seasons. During the summer months, stags ascend above the snow line, seeking cooler climates. They return from these higher altitudes in October to rejoin the hinds. The mating season, or rut, is marked by the roaring of stags.

 

Kashmiri Red Deer - Hangul

 

Distribution: Restricted to Dachigham National Park, Gurez, Waragat – Naranag, and Chandaji Nallah in Jammu and Kashmir.

 

  1. Sangai or Manipur Brow-Antlered Deer (Rucervus eldii)

IUCN Status: Endangered

The Sangai, also known as the Brow-antlered Deer, is one of India’s most critically endangered deer species, found exclusively in a tiny area within the Keibul Lamjao National Park in Manipur. This park, situated in the unique floating ecosystem of Loktak Lake, provides the only natural habitat for the Sangai. Characterized by its large size and the males’ spectacular circular antler formation, the Sangai exhibits a distinctive dark reddish-brown coat in winter, which becomes paler during the summer months. Unlike males, females and fawns maintain a consistent color throughout the year. The antlers of the Sangai are notable for their very long brow tine, which seamlessly extends from the main beam.

Adaptations such as splayed hooves, long dewclaws, and hardened, non-hairy pasterns make the Sangai particularly suited to life in its swampy environment. These features enable the deer to navigate the marshy terrain of Loktak Lake with ease.

One of the most enchanting behaviors of the Sangai is its unique method of locomotion. Known as the “dancing deer,” the Sangai moves with delicate, mincing hops across the floating vegetation of its habitat. This distinctive gait, along with its critical conservation status and the singular beauty of its antlers, makes the Sangai a symbol of the rich biodiversity of the Northeastern Indian state of Manipur and highlights the importance of conservation efforts to preserve this unique species and its habitat.

 

Sangai or Manipur Brow-Antlered Deer

 

Distribution: A single population in Loktak lake of Manipur

 

  1. Swamp Deer or Barasingha (Rucervus duvacelli)– 3 subspecies

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The Barasingha, or Swamp Deer, is a large and impressive species renowned for the spectacular 5-6 tined antlers seen in males. Across different landscapes of India, three subspecies of this deer have been identified, each with distinct characteristics in terms of cranial and dental features, as well as physical appearance and habitat preferences.

Wetland Barasingha: Found in the Terai regions, this subspecies is the largest among the three. It is characterized by a taller hind, a thicker neck, and a more robust build compared to its counterparts. This variant is adapted to the wetland habitats where it resides.

Hard Ground Barasingha: Inhabiting the Kanha area, this subspecies is slightly smaller than the wetland Barasingha but is noted for its longer antlers, darker pelage, and a more pronounced neck ruff. Unlike the other two subspecies, its hooves are not splayed, an adaptation to the firmer ground it occupies.

Eastern Barasingha: The smallest of the three, this subspecies is found in Kaziranga and has been reintroduced in Manas. It has the smallest antlers and tail among the Barasingha subspecies, adapted to the specific environmental conditions of the Eastern landscapes.

Swamp Deer are creatures of habit, often utilizing the same paths to meander to and from meadows. Notably, they do not designate vigilant sentries within their herds, typically grazing with their heads down in unison. When disturbed, their instinct is to seek refuge in tall grass rather than wetlands, differing from some deer species that might head towards water bodies.

 

Indian swamp deer or barasingha in a pond

 

Distribution: The distribution of the Barasingha, or Swamp Deer, is currently limited to five discrete populations spread across three distinct regions of India: Central, Northeast, and Northern India. This fragmented distribution reflects both the historical range of the species and the challenges it faces in terms of habitat loss and conservation. In recent efforts to restore the Barasingha to its former range and to bolster its existing populations, there have been reintroductions in several areas where they previously roamed.

These reintroduction and conservation efforts are vital for the survival of the Barasingha, aiming to increase genetic diversity, expand their habitat range, and ensure the long-term viability of the species. By focusing on these discrete populations and their unique environmental needs, conservationists hope to mitigate the threats facing the Barasingha and secure a future for this magnificent deer species in India’s diverse ecosystems.

 

  1. Spotted Deer (Axis axis)

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Chital, India’s most widespread, easily observed, and arguably most beautiful deer, holds a unique position among the country’s wildlife. It is distinguished as the only predominantly spotted deer in India, with both males and females bearing spots in all seasons throughout their lives. The differences between the sexes are subtle, primarily concerning size and the presence of antlers in males. Remarkably, the Chital’s antlers are the largest in proportion to body size, and its body is longer in proportion to height than any other deer species globally.

A particularly fascinating aspect of the Chital’s behavior is its symbiotic relationship with langurs. This deer species acts as a vigilant lookout for the monkeys, benefiting from the leaves and fruit the langurs drop from trees. Unlike some deer species, Chital do not wallow, showcasing a distinct preference in their habits and behaviors.

Chital are adaptable to a variety of habitat types, thriving in environments ranging from grassland-deciduous forest ecotones—particularly around forest fringes—to swampy meadows, plantations, riparian forests, mangroves, and scrublands. This adaptability allows them to inhabit a broad range of ecological niches across India, further cementing their status as one of the country’s most common and cherished deer species.

Distribtuion: The distribution of the Chital, or Spotted Deer, spans a significant portion of India, reflecting its adaptability and the wide range of habitats it occupies. Chitals are found throughout Peninsular India, extending westward to Gujarat and across the Gangetic plain, reaching as far east as Manas in the Northeast. Their presence is also notable in the Sundarbans and Bhitarkanika, showcasing their adaptability to diverse environments from dry deciduous forests to the mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans.

 

  1. Hog Deer (Axis porcinus)

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Hog Deer, a medium-sized grassland deer, stands out for its distinctive physique compared to other deer species in India. It is stouter and possesses shorter legs than the Chital, while being larger and more rounded than the Barking Deer. The stags feature prominent pedicles with antlers that bear three tines. Although their antlers are shorter than those of other large deer species, they are considerably larger relative to the Hog Deer’s own head and are notably thick.

A key behavioral trait of the Hog Deer is its response to alarm. Similar to the Chital, when startled, Hog Deer erect their tails and emit a low, bark-like call, swiftly scurrying into the grass with their necks lowered and stretched out. This adaptation allows them to blend into their habitat effectively and evade predators.

Hog Deer are typically found in lowland wet, tall grasslands that are interspersed with forests, swamps, or riverine areas. This preference for moist and dense habitats helps them to remain concealed and protected from potential threats.

Distribution:  Hog Deer’s range extends through the plains along the rivers Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra, covering territories from Punjab in the west across to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the east. This wide distribution across the river plains of India highlights the Hog Deer’s adaptability to various grassland and wetland environments, contributing to the diverse deer population across the country.

 

Comparison between the 12 Deer species found in India

 

S. No. Species Best Places to See them HBL (Head and Body Length) HAS (Height at Shoulder ) Weight Diet Unique Characteristics
1 Indian Chevrotain (Moschiola indica) Mudumalai Tiger Reserve,
Bandipur Tiger Reserve
55-59 cm. 25-30 cm. 2-4 kg Undergrowths, Grasses, Fruits etc. Smallest Deer, three chambered stomach instead of four chambered
2 Himalayan Musk Deer (Moschus leucogaster) Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary 86-100 cm. 50 cm. 13-18 kg Leaves of woody plants, forbs, lichen, moss, ferns and grasses. Known for its musk gland this deer alongwith mouse deer does not have antlers
3 Kashmir Musk Deer (Moschus cupreus) Kazinag National Park 85-100 cm. 40-50 cm. 12-17 kg Leaves of woody plants, forbs, lichen, moss, ferns and grasses. Known for its musk gland this deer alongwith mouse deer does not have antlers
4 Alpine Musk Deer (Moschus chrysgaster) Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary 85-90 cm. 50-60 cm. 11-18 kg Leaves of woody plants, forbs, lichen, moss, ferns and grasses. Known for its musk gland this deer alongwith mouse deer does not have antlers
5 Black Musk Deer (Moscus fuscus) Khangchendzonga National Park 73-80 cm Unknown 10 -15 kg Leaves of woody plants, forbs, lichen, moss, ferns and grasses. Known for its musk gland this deer alongwith mouse deer does not have antlers
6 Indian Muntjac or Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntjak) Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Kanha Tiger Reserve, Corbett Tiger Reserve, 90-120 cm 50-70 cm 20-28 kg Fruits, freshly sprouted leaves, buds and small seeds The mammal with lowest recorded chromosome number
7 Sambar (Rusa unicolor) Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Satpura Tiger Reserve, Kanha Tiger Reserve 160- 210 cm 70 – 100 cm 180-270 kg (male), 130-230 kg (female) Browse and Grass, fruits, aquatic vegetation, sedges India’s largest deer
8 Kashmir Red Deer or Hangul (Cervus wallichi) Dachigham National Park 190-205 cm (male) 180-195 cm (female) 125-145 cm (male) 110-120 cm (female) 150-240 kg (male) 110-170 kg (female) Alpine grasses, leaves of woody trees, shoots, flowers and fruits Though they are red deer but are closer to Asian Deer than European Red Deer
9 Sangai or Manipur Brow Antlered Deer (Rucervus eldii) Keibul Lamjao National Park 160-170 cm (male) 140-150 cm (female) 115-130 cm (male) 90-100 cm (female) 90-125 kg (male) 60-80 kg (female) Forbs, grasses, agricultural crops, fruits Known for their unique habitat, a floating vegetation known as ‘Phumdi’
10 Swamp Deer or Barasingha (Rucervus duvacelii) Kanha Tiger Reserve, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Kaziranga Tiger Reserve 180-190 cm 120-135 cm (male) 115 cm (female) 170-200 kg (male)140-145 kg (female) Aquatic vegetation and grasses Most magnificent antlers with twelve tines
11 Spotted Deer (Axis axis) Kanha Tiger Reserve, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Bandhavgrah Tiger Reserve 150-155 cm (male) 140-145 cm (female) 85-95 cm (male) 70-80 cm (female) 70-85 kg (male) 45-60 kg (female) Grass, leaves of woody plant, herbs, shrubs, fruits, flowers Most common and arguably most beautiful deer of India
12 Hog Deer (Axis porcinus) Corbett Tiger Reserve, Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve 140-150 cm (male) 130 cm (female) 65-75 cm (male) 55-65 cm (female) 40-55 kg (male) 30-40 kg (female) herbs, forbs, grasses, shrubs A mix of spotted and barking deer, named after its pig like appearance

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