The appearance and the size of sambar vary widely across their range, which has led to considerable taxonomic confusion in the past; over forty different scientific synonyms have been used for the species. In general, they attain a height of 102 to 160 centimetres (40 to 63 in) at the shoulder and may weigh as much as 546 kg (1,204 lb), though more typically 100 to 350 kg (220 to 770 lb). Head and body length varies from 1.62 to 2.7 m (5.3 to 8.9 ft), with a 22 to 35 cm (8.7 to 13.8 in) tail. Individuals belonging to western subspecies tend to be larger than those from the east and females are smaller than males. Among all living cervid species, only the moose and the elk can attain larger sizes.
The large, rugged antlers are typically rusine, the brow tines being simple and the beams forked at the tip, so that they have only three tines. The antlers are typically up to 110 cm (43 in) long in fully adult individuals. As with most deer, only the males have antlers.
The shaggy coat can be anything from yellowish-brown to dark grey in colour and, while it is usually uniform in color, some subspecies have chestnut marks on the rump and underparts. Sambar also have a small but dense mane, which tends to be more prominent in males. The tail is relatively long for deer, and is generally black above with a whitish underside. Adult males and pregnant or lactating females possess an unusual hairless, blood-red spot located about halfway down the underside of their throats. This sometimes oozes a white liquid, and is apparently glandular in nature.
Range and Ecology Edit
The sambar inhabits much of southern Asia (as far north as the south-facing slopes of the Himalayan Mountains), mainland Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Indochina, the Malay Peninsula), southern China (including Hainan Island), Taiwan, and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Sambar are found in habitats ranging from tropical dry forests, tropical seasonal forests, subtropical mixed forests (conifers, broadleaf deciduous, and broadleaf evergreen tree species) to tropical rainforests. They are seldom found far from water. They are hardy animals, ranging from sea level up to 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) in places such as eastern Taiwan, Myanmar, and the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.
Sambar prefer the dense cover of deciduous shrubs and grasses, although the exact nature of this varies enormously with the environment, because of their wide range across southern Asia. Home range sizes are probably equally variable, but have been recorded as 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) for males and 300 hectares (740 acres) for females in India.
Sambar primarily live in woodland and feed on a wide variety of vegetation, including grasses, foliage, browse, fruit, and water plants, depending on the local habitat. They also consume a great variety of shrubs and trees. They are a favourite prey item for tigers and Asiatic lions. In India, the sambar can comprise up to nearly 60% of the prey selected by the Bengal tiger. Anecdotally, the tiger is said to even mimic the call of the sambar to deceive it while hunting. They also can be taken by crocodiles, mostly the sympatric mugger crocodiles and estuarine crocodiles. Leopards and dholes largely prey on only young or sickly deer, though they can attack healthy adults as well.
Sambar have been seen congregating in large herds in protected areas such as national parks and reserves in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In Taiwan, sambar, along with sika deer, have been raised on farms for their antlers, which they drop annually in April to May and are highly prized for use as knife handles and as grips for handguns.
Behaviour and Life History Edit
Sambar are nocturnal or crepuscular. The males live alone for much of the year, and the females live in small herds of up to sixteen individuals. Indeed, in some areas, the average herd consists of only three or four individuals, typically consisting of an adult female, her most recent young, and perhaps a subordinate, immature female. This is an unusual pattern for deer, which more commonly live in larger groups. They often congregate near water, and are good swimmers. Like most deer, sambar are generally quiet, although all adults can scream or make short, high-pitched sounds when alarmed. However, they more commonly communicate by scent marking and foot stamping.
Stags will wallow and dig their antlers in urine soaked soil and then rub against tree trunks. Sambars are capable of remarkable bipedalism for a deer species and stags will stand and mark tree branches above them with their antlers. A stag will also mark himself by spraying urine on his own face with a highly mobile penis. Despite their lack of antlers, female sambar will readily defend their young from most predators, something that is relatively unusual among deer. When confronted by pack-hunting dholes or domestic dogs, a sambar will lower its head with an erect mane and lash at the dogs. Sambars prefer to attack predators in shallow water. Several sambars may form a defensive formation, touching rumps and vocalising loudly at the dogs. When sensing danger a sambar will stamp its feet and make a ringing call known as "pooking" or "belling".
Though they mate and reproduce year-round, sambar calving peaks seasonally. Oestrus lasts around eighteen days. The male establishes a territory from which he attracts nearby females, but he does not establish a harem. The male stomps the ground, creating a bare patch, and often wallows in the mud, perhaps to accentuate the colour of his hair, which is typically darker than that of females. While they have been heard to make a loud coarse bellow, rutting stags are generally not vocal, Large dominant stags will defend non-exclusive territories surrounded by several smaller males which they have bonded and formed alliances with through sparring. When sparring with rival males, sambar lock antlers and push, like other deer, but, uniquely, they also sometimes stand on their hind legs and clash downward into each other in a manner similar to species of goat-antelope. Females also fight on their hind legs and use their forelegs to hit each other in the head.
Courtship is based more on tending bonds rather than males vocally advertising themselves. Females moving widely among breeding territories seeking males to court. When mounting, males do not clasp females. The front legs of the male hang loosely and intromission takes the form of a "copulatory jump".
Gestation probably lasts around eight months, although some studies suggest it may be slightly longer. Normally only one calf is born at a time, although twins have been reported in up to 2% of births. Initially weighing 5 to 8 kilograms (11 to 18 lb), the calves are usually not spotted, although in some subspecies there are light spots which disappear not long after birth. The young begin to take solid food at 5 to 14 days, and begin to ruminate after one month. Sambar have lived for up to 28 years in captivity, although it is unlikely that they often survive more than twelve years in the wild.