status: Vulnerable, IUCN Endangered, ESA
range: India, Nepal
Description and biology
The swamp deer is a large member of the deer family. The animal has an average head and body length of 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters), measures about 4 feet (1.2 meters) in height at its shoulder, and weighs between 375 and 620 pounds (170 and 280 kilograms). In winter, the swamp deer's coat is brown on the top part of its body and paler on its underside. In summer, the entire coat lightens in color. Male swamp deer are often darker overall than females. Swamp deer feed on grasses and aquatic plants, and their main predators are tigers and leopards.
In central India, swamp deer are known as barasingha, which means six-pointer. However, their 36- to 40-inch (91- to 102-centimeter) antlers can have 10 or more points. Antlers are solid, bony outgrowths of a deer's skull. The stem of an
antler is called the beam, while the branches are called the tines. Most male deer grow and shed antlers annually.
Like male deer of other species, male swamp deer use their antlers when competing with each other over the right to mate with females. A dominant male may mate with as many as 30 females during mating season, which lasts from September to April. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 225 to 250 days, a female swamp deer gives birth to a single infant.
Habitat and current distribution
Swamp deer are found scattered throughout Nepal and northern, central, and far eastern India. Almost 5,000 swamp deer inhabit the marshy grasslands and floodplains of the northern regions. In the remaining habitat areas, about 600 swamp deer live in drier woodlands and fields.
History and conservation measures
Scientists estimate that thousands of swamp deer lived along the major rivers of India during the nineteenth century. Now, most swamp deer live in protected reserves such as the Sukla Phanta Preserve in Nepal, the Dudhwa National Park in northern India, and the Kanha National Park in central India.
Habitat destruction has been the leading cause for the decline in the population of swamp deer. Illegal hunting and competition from other deer species for food and habitat also continue to threaten its existence.