Deer and Antelope in Chitwan National Park
April 02, 2022
The Deer and Antelope in Chitwan National Park
In Chitwan National Park, you will see four species of deer, the Chital; the Hog Deer; the Sambar; and the Barking deer coexisting in the same environment. A fifth species, the Swamp Deer is now extinct in Chitwan. Once it thrived in the marshlands north of the Rapti River, which now are mostly villages and farmlands. However, Swamp Deer still exist in Nepal in Bardia National Park and Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve.
The Nepalese Terai has three species of Antelopes, the Nilgai or Blue Bull, the Blackbuck, and the Four Horned Antelope. In addition to the Nilgai and the Four-Horned Antelope, there are casual reports of the presence of two goat-antelopes in Chitwan National Park, namely the Serow and the Gharial in the Churia Hills and Someswar ridges on the south-western flank of the national park. However, there are no reports of Blackbuck sightings in Chitwan.
What is the Difference between a Deer and an Antelope?
Many people incorrectly think that the deer and the antelope are synonymous. However, there are a few striking differences between the two. They both are ruminants or cud-chewing, even-toed, and hoofed mammals. Like cows, sheep, and goats, antelopes belong to the Bovidae family. In contrast, deer belong to a distinct family called Cervidae (deer family), which also includes reindeer, moose, and elks. Deer have antlers and antelopes have horns. The Deer antlers grow branches, while antelope horns do not have any branches. Deer shed their antlers every year while antelopes do not shed their horns.
The Chital or Axis Deer
The Chital is the commonest deer in South Asia. It is also indigenous to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The Gir Forest of Gujarat, India, forms its western limit, while Assam is its natural eastern limit. These pretty deer have been introduced in various parts of the world since the late 19th Century. Currently, large herds of Chital survive in Hawaii and Texas in the United States. It also ranks among the most primitive of the deer, which is described in Hindu religious epics such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Vedas (3000 to 2000 BC.)
In Nepal, the Chital is found throughout the Terai, with major also easily seen in the Gokarna Forests in the Kathmandu Valley.
On average, males weigh 70 kg and stand 90 cm at shoulder height. Females are smaller weighing 50 kg and measuring 75 cm in height. This Deer has a clean, well-groomed, and bright rufous colored coat, which is profusely marked with distinctive white spots. Thus, it is also called the Spotted Deer. These spots are retained from birth to death, a characteristic not found in other deer. A dark stripe runs down its spine from the nape of the neck to the tip of the tail. The abdomen, rump, throat, and the insides of ears, legs, and tail are white. The hair of the coat is soft, shiny, and kept constantly clean by regular licking.
A frontal view of large well-formed antlers gives a harp-like appearance. Antlers are brown in color with ivory-like tips. In Chitwan, most Chital starts shedding their antlers in August, ending by March. Within two to three weeks of shedding, a bulblike growth develops on the head of the deer, which in turn grows into new soft velvet-like antlers. The peak period for seeing Chital with velvet antlers in Chitwan is December to February, which is also the time to females produce new fawns. By May over 95% velvet of the new antlers has metamorphosed into hard antlers.
Chital is often sighted under trees were monkeys, moth the rhesus monkey, and the langur feed. These primates drop leaves, fruits, and flowers to the ground where the Chital eat them easily.
The Hog Deer
The Hog Deer gets its name from its squat pig-like appearance, particularly when it is in motion. It belongs to the same Axis genus as the Chital. But adult Hong Deer do not have distinctive white spots on their rusty-grayish coat. It is also more widely distributed than the Chital in Asia, where it ranges from India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to Burma, Thailand, Indo-China, and Malaysia.
Adults stand 60 to 75 cm high and weigh 30 to 45 kg, with males slightly bigger than females. Hog Deer antlers consist of a short brown tine and a straight beam with a fork on its top. The annual cycle of antler shedding and development in Hog Deer is two to three months later than that of the Chital, or Spotted Deer.
Hog Deer are the main species of grasslands. Since most of the grasslands have been lost to agriculture, they are restricted to a few pockets in the Indian Sub-Continent. In Nepal, Hog Deer are mainly concentrated in Chitwan, Bardia, and Shuklaphanta wildlife conservation areas.
The Sambar is the largest deer in Southern Asia. It is also the most widespread Asian deer. Its range extends from the thorn forest of Western India to the Tropical Rain Forest of Malaysia and Indonesia, from sea level to almost 3,000 meters altitude in the pine and oak forests of Bhutan. In Nepal, they are distributed throughout the Terai and are common in Negarjun and Gokarna Forest in the Kathmandu Valley.
Males average about 140 cm at shoulder height and females are slightly smaller. Weight in adult males varies widely from 200 to 300 kg, while females scale at 150 to 200 kg.
Sambars have a coarse brownish grey coat with pale underparts. Mature stags have a mine around the throat and are slightly darker in color than hands (the females). Antlers are stout, rugged, and bigger than any other deer in Nepal, measuring 90 to 100 cm in length. In Chitwan, Sambars start to shed antlers in February and most Sambars shed their antlers by May. More than 75% of Sambars display velvet antlers by August, which begin to harden from September on. From December to January over 90% of Sambars have matured hard antlers.
The Barking Deer
This deer takes its name from its call, which resembles a dog-like bark. There are five species and about 15 sub-spaces of this genus in Southern Asia.
The Barking Deer of Nepal, Northern India, and Bhutan are recognized as separate sub-species from that of Central India, which is again distinguished as a different sub-species from those in South India and Sri Lanka.
Barking Deer is distributed widely throughout Asia. In Nepal, their range extends from the lowland Terai at altitudes of less than 100 meters up to the highlands, to about 3,500 meters in the Himalayas. It is the smallest of the deer in Chitwan. Adult males stand about 50 to 60 cm at the shoulder and weigh 20 to 25 kg. Females are slightly smaller. Local people call this petite deer Ratuwa (or the red one) for its reddish-brown coat.
The Barking Deer has short antlers. Combined with body size, solitary nature, and preference to live in dense forest, it is difficult to identify the antler growing cycle of the Barking Deer. Most of the Barking Deer this author has seen with shed antlers were seen from March to May. However, animals with velvet antlers were seen in most months except October to January. Barking deer are forest-dwelling animals, which seldom come out of cover with their young. Mothers with fawns are seen mostly in November and in May to June and August to September.
The Nilgai or Blue Bull
The name Nilgai means “Blue Cow” in Nepali. In English, it is called “Blue Bull,” after the male’s bluish-grey coat. Both sexes have white patches on the face and below the chin. They also have a clump of coarse hair cropping from the center of their throat and a mane on the back of their neck.
The Blue Bull is the largest antelope in Asia standing 120 to 150 cm at shoulder height and measuring 170 to 210 meters in body length plus a long and tufted tail of 45 to 50 cm. Males are much bigger than females averaging 240 kg while females weigh about 110 kg on average. They have solidly built bodies with powerful shoulders, a curvy rump, and a thick neck, but with thin legs. Once thought to be absent in Chitwan National Park, camera traps in 2010 confirmed their presence in the Nawalparasi section in the Narayani River basin at the western end of the park.
The Four Horned Antelope
This antelope got its name from its unique head, which bears four horns. However only males have horns. The first pair grows between its ears. The second pair stands further forward on the forehead and grows later.
The Four Horned Antelope ranks among the smallest of Asian bovine animals. It is 20 to 25 cm tall at shoulder height and weighs 16 to 22 kg. Its coat is yellowish-brown, which fades to a whitish color along the underparts and the insides of the legs.
These petite antelope rank among the rarest and most endangered species and are rarely seen in Chitwan. Its presence is reported along the Southeast fringes of Chitwan National Park, in areas adjoining Parsa Wildlife Reserve.
The serow is a common animal of the Nepal Himalayas. However, it is also distributed throughout forested hills and mountains of India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. It is a peculiar-looking animal with a goat-like body and a donkey-like face and gives the impression that it is indeed a crossbreed between a goat and a donkey.
Its coat is coarse in texture and medium brownish in color, with whitish chest and underparts. The Serow has a dorsal mane that runs from the base of its horn to the middle of its spine. Serows live a solitary life. They prefer steep slopes in well-covered hilly terrain. They have short horns that measure 12 to 16 cm and curve backward to resemble the horns of a common Nepalese domestic goat. There are a few reported Serow sightings in the high ridges of the Churia and Someswar Hills on the southwestern edge of the Chitwan National Park. Photographic evidence through camera trapping is still needed to substantiate those reports.
Akin to the Serow, the Ghoral occurs across the Himalayas. It has a light grayish-brown coat and a dark stripe along its spine. A male goral’s mane is much shorter than that of a Serow. Their horns are also goat-like and similar to that of the Serow. The Ghoral is an agile animal and can sprint across rugged and steep slopes. Visitors to the Nepal Himalayas, particularly in Langtang National Park, north of Kathmandu often see Ghorals grazing in pairs or groups of four to ten.
There are cursory references to Ghoral sightings in the Someswar Hills, near the Nepal-India border on the South-West edge of Chitwan National Park. However, photographic evidence through camera trapping is still required to confirm their existence in Chitwan.
Source: Chitwan National Park’s Book
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