Deer (harin) ruminant mammal of the family Cervidae, order Artiodactyla. All members of the family have more or less similar appearance and nature. The male has typically a pair of bony outgrowths of the skull, that is to say, the antlers that are shed and regrown each year. They are at first covered by the 'velvet', a soft hairy skin; the skin gradually dries and is rubbed off as the antlers mature. Most deer are forest dwellers and naturally shy.
Of the five species available in Bangladesh, Sambar (Cervus unicolor) is the largest. The Maya Harin or the barking deer (Muntiacus muntjac) is the smallest. Other than the spotted deer of the sundarbans, the populations of other species have diminished alarmingly. Indiscriminate hunting, human interference, and habitat destruction have contributed to the decline of these valuable wildlife of the country.
The deer are either nocturnal or diurnal animals and feed on grasses, leaves, flowers and fruits. They live mostly in small groups. Adults become sexually mature in 1-2 years. After a gestation period of 6-8 months in different species, one young, and rarely two, are born at a time.
Barking Deer (maya harin) is only about 40-62 cm at the shoulder. The males of Muntiacus muntjac have long tusk-like upper canines and only very small antlers on top of their long hairy bases (pedicels). The females have no antlers and the short pedicels are just bony knobs covered with tuft of hairs. Colouration varies from deep brown to yellowish or greyish brown with creamy or whitish markings, almost white on belly. The body is covered with short, soft hairs, except for the ears, which are sparsely haired.
Barking deer occurs in the forests of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Nepal to southern China, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra, Java and Borneo. In Bangladesh they occur in the Sundarbans, Sylhet and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Often called Muntjac, they live in woodlands and in more or less thick jungles. They usually come out to graze in the outskirts of forests or in open clearings.
Nocturnal and usually solitary they can also be seen together in groups of 2-3. They move slowly and cautiously, frequently pausing and standing still. They feed on leaves, shoots, grasses, and wild fruits.
From a distance, their call sounds much like the bark of a dog. When alarmed they give out a series of short cackling barks. Because of this habit, the species is popularly known as barking deer. The female makes shrill mewing sounds during the breeding season, and the male makes a belling bark.
Females reach sexual maturity within a year and are polyestrous. Gestation is about 7 months. Usually 1-2 youngs are born.
Sambar (sambar) It is the largest deer in the subcontinent; its height at shoulder may reach up to 150 cm. The coat is coarse and shaggy. In stags it forms a mane about the neck and throat. In hot weather much of the hair is shed. The general colour is brown with a yellowish or greyish tinge; under parts are paler. Old stags tend to become dark, often almost black. They carry the grandest horns. The antlers are stout and rugged.
Besides Bangladesh, its distribution range includes India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, extending through the Malay countries and eastwards to the Philippines and beyond. They prefer wooded and forested areas and hillsides near cultivated areas and move in small herds of 4-20 animals. In Bangladesh they occur in the northern evergreen forests of Sylhet, Chittagong, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Sambar's power of sight is moderate and their sense of hearing acute. They are naturally shy and move silently through dense jungle. They readily go to the water and swim with their bodies submerged, only the face and antlers remain above the surface. The majority of stag cast their antlers between March and Mid-April. Their food consists of grass, leaves and various kinds of wild fruits. They feed mainly at night and retire into heavy cover at daybreak and do not usually come out till dusk.
The males maintain their territory. Often stags fight to obtain sole right over some favoured area. Pairing takes place in November and December. Gestation period is about 8 months. Usually a single fawn is born, and on rare occasions twins.
Spotted Deer (chitra harin) It is a medium-sized deer species, Cervus axis standing about 70-95 cm high at the shoulder. Locally this species is known as Chitra or Chital because of its rufous brown coat adorned with white spots that persist throughout life. A dark stripe runs down the back from the nape to the tip of the tail. The abdomen, rump, throat and the insides of the legs, tail and ears are white. A black band circles the muzzle. The adult weighs about 85 kg.
The adult carries three-tined antlers, and the species is perhaps the most beautiful of the deer family. It occurs in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and has also been introduced to Australia.
In Bangladesh once they were found in almost all forests, but now are confined only to the Sundarbans. They are typically inhabitants of forest edges, woodlands etc. They are seen in herds of 10-30 containing two or three stags; but assemblage numbering several hundreds is not uncommon in the Sundarbans.
Chitra eats grass. Their favoured forage is, however, green grass less then 10 cm tall. This deer species is a prolific breeder. It has no definite mating season. Due to indiscriminate hunting for meat and fur, their population have declined alarmingly since 1950s. The spotted deer has a gestation period of 7 month, one young is born at a time. The adults attain sexual maturity within 2-3 years.
Swamp Deer (baroshiba) It is somewhat stoutly-built deer species (Cervus duvauceli) standing about 120 cm at the withers. The muzzle is rather long and narrow; and the hairs show a moderate degree of fineness, with a tendency towards a wooly nature. Colouration is light dark brown, yellowish brown or grey.
The adult males of swamp deer have the mightiest antlers. The local name of the species baroshina literally means 12 pointer, but nine-point or ten-point animals have been noted. The antlers begin to drop off from the middle of February and continues up to the end of March. By April, practically all stags become hornless.
Although once swamp deer occurred in Bangladesh, it is no longer found in wild in this country. They are now found in only North and Central India, and Nepal.
Swamps, grassy plains, and floating grasslands are their preferred habitat, the vicinity of water being essential. In such localities they are found during the cooler months of the year in herds.
The swamp deer prefers grasses, rarely leaves, fruits and flowers, and feeds mostly in the early hours of the morning and at dusk. Most of the young are born from May to July. The gestation period is about 8 months. The mother usually gives birth to a single fawn, and on rare occasions two. [Noorjahan Sarker]