December 2016


The Sambar Deer, Wild and Dignified
December 2016




A sambar deer resting during the daytime

The sambar deer roam the grasslands of the Island. Amidst the greenery the regal deer rears its head, majestically surveying its territory. It is a long stern stare, watchful of foes and predators.


Words: Nethu Wickramasinghe | Photography: L. J. Mendis Wickramasinghe


Justly majestic with a wild and dignified appearance, the sambar deer in Sri Lanka is the largest of the four in the deer family. Distributed from the sea level to the higher altitudes, these regal creatures often prefer habitats with open grasslands where they could graze for hours on end.


Although quite easily spotted even during the day as with any deer, the sambar deer is a nocturnal animal, and can be found active during twilight hours. During the hotter hours of the day, they prefer to rest under shaded forest cover.


With large velvet coated antlers the male deer form larger territories and roam alone. Sturdy and well-formed antlers are all about showing their strength, on one hand, it is to interest the females while on the other it is to contest with other males. In the natural world, it is always the stronger male that wins the right to pass on their genes to the next generation. Each year the males shed their bony antlers only to grow a new one for the coming year. The females live in herds, rearing and protecting their young. The furry coats of those that live in colder climates are thicker than those that survive in drier parts of the Island.

The sambar deer is a nocturnal animal even though they can be spotted during the day as well... Males have large territories and roam alone while the females live in herds, rearing and protecting their young.


Although their motion is unhurried, when threatened with danger sambars are able to flee very fast. The alerted cry of a sambar is a high pitched bark often being an alarm call for others when faced with predators.


These majestic creatures were once found to be distributed in all forested areas. Interestingly there are published records in the National Museum that mentions that the sambar deer was even sighted in Colombo over hundred years ago. However, today they are confined to national parks such as Yala, Kumana, Udawalawe, Wasgamuwa, Wilpattu and the central highlands where they can be readily observed in the wild. However, sightings have not been reported from Bundala.The three strict nature reserves Ritigala, Haggala and Yala Block-II provide the best protection for these animals that are vulnerable to anthropogenic pressures.

Attracted by rich pastures Horton Plains National Park located in the higher altitudes of the Island is one of the ideal locations to spot large congregations of these majestic animals.


The Knuckles range is a beautiful and unique landscape, hilly yet separated from the central hills by the Mahaweli valley. Amidst the grazing sambar on a plane in this region, we once witnessed a few grazing white sambar, a rare sighting indeed. Attracted by the rich highland pastures, the Horton Plains National Park is one of the most ideal locations to spot large congregations of these unhurried creatures. For a wildlife photographer, to capture the actions of sambar deer in a wide variety of habitats and beautiful backdrops with large herds of as many as 80, the higher altitudes with the misty cloaked mountains will indeed be rewarding.


The sky often gleams in crimson colours on clear days. The silhouette of a male or a female sambar deer set amidst the wide open grass- lands against the setting sun is indeed a rewarding site to watch at the end of a day.

 

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    The silhouette of a pair of sambar deer during sunset

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    Sambar deer prefer open pastures for grazing

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    A dominant male sambar in courtship

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    Sambar deer of the dry zone have thinner coats

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    Sambars with new antlers after shedding their old

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    A female sambar in Horton Plains National Park

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    Male sambar deer live in isolation except during mating season

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    A rare sighting... a white sambar

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