Antelope, cattle an gar belong the Order Artiodactyla and the family Bovidae. Deer belong to the Order Artiodactyla, Suborder Ruminantia and Famil Cervidae. Deer, water buffalo, cattle, sheep, goats, yaks, antelopes, giraffes, and their relatives are ruminants — cud-chewing mammals that have a distinctive digestive system designed to obtain nutrients from large amounts of nutrient-poor grass. Ruminants evolved about 20 million years ago in North America and migrated from there to Europe and Asia and to a lesser extent South America, where they never became widespread.

As ruminants evolved they rose up on their toes and developed long legs. Their side toes shrunk while their central toes strengthened and the nails developed into hooves, which are extremely durable and excellent shock absorbers. Ruminants helped grasslands remain as grasslands and thus kept themselves adequately suppled with food. Grasses can withstand the heavy trampling of ruminants while young tree seedlings can not. The changing rain conditions of many grasslands has meant that that grass sprouts seasonally in different places and animals often make long journeys to find pastures. The ruminants hooves and large size allows them to make the journeys.

Barasingha, or swamp deer, stags cover their massive antlers with grass during the mating season to intimidate their rivals. The tiny chousingha, or four-horned antelope, is another very rare hoofed animal. Native to India and South Asia, it is 80 centimeters to one meter long, not including its 12 centimeters tail, and weighs 17 to 21 kilograms. Found mostly in dense forests and marshland, it feeds on grasses, sedges and other plants, usually near water or forested hills. The male has two pairs of horns, a unique feature among bovids. The front pair is only three to four centimeters long. The rear pair are about twice as long. Little is known about the shy, skittish chousingha. It communicate with low whistles for identification and barks for alarm. Its brownish coat has a dark stripe on the front of each leg, The muzzle and outer ear surfaces are black. Its offspring are smaller than cats.

Barking Deer (Muntjac)


Barking deer, or “muntjac”, are not much larger than small dogs. They are reddish brown in color and use their small size to stay concealed in the grass. They stand about 30 inches at the shoulder, have two-tined antlers that are only about four inches long, and make a barking noise like a dog when they get exited. There are nine species of muntjac, all native to Asia.

Indian Muntjac (Barking Deer, Muntiacus muntjak) have a body length of one meter and a tail length of 17-21 centimeters and weigh 25-30 kilograms. Their preferred habitats are forests and bushes in low altitude mountains and hills. They eat branches, leaves, flowers, fruit, various kinds of f vegetation and crops. Their skin has traditionally been a source of leather in China. For this reason they were widely hunted in South China. In China they can be found in Southeast, South and Southwest China and are not considered threatened or endangered. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

Barking deer are usually solitary. They are cautious and sensitive. They often comes out in the night, in early morning, or at dusk. During the daytime, they usually hides in bushes to take rests and bark when they are frightened. Their bark is quite similar to that of dogs, hence their name. Barking deer have fixed range. No matter how far away they are chased from a place, they always return to their original territory. Barking deer reproduce easily and can mate all the year round. Their gestation period is about 210 days and give birth to one young at a time. Barking deer reach sexual maturity at the age of one year.

The Reeves muntjac is 75 to 95 centimeters long, not including its 17 centimeter tail, and weighs 10 to 18 kilograms. Native to eastern Asia, it has small 10-centimeter-long antlers and feeds on a wide variety of vegetation ranging from shoots, herbs and blossoms to tough grass and nuts. Males are capable of breeding year round. In fights they try to push their rivals off balance, sometimes inflicting nasty wounds with their antlers. Some Reeves muntjac have been introduced to the Netherlands and England.


The chital is a deer species found in India and Sri Lanka. Also known as the axis deer or spotted deer, it is reddish in color and keeps its spots its entire life. It is one meter to 1.5 meters in length, not including its 10 to 25 centimeter tail, and weighs 70 to 80 kilograms. Large bucks stand 1.2 meters at the shoulder and have large antlers that have a brow tine (prong) and a rear-directed beam that forks into two points.

Chitral often live in large mixed-sex herds with 100 or more members. These herds typically are comprised of many females and their young and two or three dominant stags. The graze in grasslands and open woodlands and are often found near waterways. They graze in the early morning and evening and rests in a cool place during the mid0day heat.

Chital scream loudly when threatened and can drive off much larger species. They are capable of dashing to cover in woodlands at speeds of 40mph (65kph). In battles with their own kind they reportedly aim their antlers at their opponent's eyes and sometimes curl their lips and grind their teeth before charging.

Chitrals are a favorite prey of tigers and also sought by leopards and dholes. They seek protection from tigers in the forest and ponds or rivers where it can outswim its pursuers. When ever they approach a water hole — where tigers often hunt them — their ears twitch nervously. They emit a high-pitched "ow, ow" sound whenever tigers are near. When they graze they often do so in the company of troops of langurs (a kind of monkey) that shout out warning calls when tigers are near as well as drop fruit from trees that chitrals can eat.

Sambar Deer


The sambar deer is a large deer found in India and Southeast Asia. Resembling large deer found in North America and Europe, it is two to 2.5 meters long, not including its 15 to 20 centimeter tail, and weighs 230 10 to 350 kilograms. Native to southern and eastern Asia, it is dark brown with rusty hues on its inner legs, chin and tail underside. The male has three-point antlers than can reach 1.2 meters in length. Both sex have a neck mane that is thicker on males. Solitary except for males with young, they eat wide variety of vegetation — mostly grasses, leaves and fruit — and are mostly nocturnal.

The sambar deer coat is hispid and long. Males keep their large antlers for a few years between shedding them. Sambar deer are shy, skittish creatures that flee into the depths of the forest at the slightest sound. During the mating season stags acquire harems which they defend vigorously. In central and southern India females give birth in May or early June bit in other parts of Asia the reproductive cycle may be different. After a six-month gestation period one, sometimes two, fawns are born and they are weaned when they are a few months old.

There are six distinct subspecies, which vary in size and coloring. They live in tropical and subtropical forests and are found up to elevations of about 3,000 meters. The largest sambars live in the hills of northern India. They can weigh to 350 kilograms pounds. Smaller ones live on the plains to the east and on coastal islands. The most southern subspecies lives in Indonesia. In China, sambar (Cervus nuicolor) have a body length of 1.8- two meters and a tail length of 24 centimeters. Females weigh about 120 kilograms, males about 180 kilograms. They can be found in broad-leaved forests, coniferous woods, bush lands, grass slopes and forests of low and middle-height mountains. They eat tree leaves, grass, flowers, fruit and other kinds of vegetation. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

Sambar often live together in pairs or in groups with 3-5 deer. During the daytime, they relax in grasslands or in forests and tend to browse and move around during the night. They often make calls when they go out during the night and they are most active during the rainy season. Samar are born vigilant and are good at running and jumping and like to play in water and bathe in mud. They spends more time in water during summer and can swim several kilometers. They have the habit of sucking salty soil.

Tiger Hunting Sambar Deer

Like chitrals, sambar deer are a favorite prey of tigers and also sought by leopards and dholes. They seek protection from tigers in the forest and ponds or rivers where they can outswim their pursuers. When ever they approach a water hole — where tigers often hunt them — their ears twitch nervously.

sambar stag

Many tigers stake out water holes and chase prey into the water. Once a tiger gets a hold of a victim it hold its head under water until it drowns. Crocodiles and alligator kill using a similar method. During the dry season most kills are made at water holes, where tigers go after swamp deer, which feed in the water, and sambar deer which often wander into the middle of the water hole, where they are vulnerable, to feed on water lilies. The high grass around the water hole is a perfect place for a tiger to hide and wait.

One technique that serves a tiger well is chasing panicked deer from shallow to deep water where the tiger grabs the deer. Describing one such attack Breeden wrote: "In four gigantic bounds [the tiger] pounces on the fawn, pushes it underwater, and grabs it in his powerful jaws. He shakes it. Trotting back to shore, he disappears in the grass."

Stalking tigers often spend twenty minutes or more making their stalk, trying to creep within 40 feet or so of their prey, on padded feet that don't make a sound, to get in position to attack. Tigers often have to make the kill in the initial charge or the attack is unsuccessful. Prey do their best to avoid becoming kills. When a spotted deer senses a tiger is near it freezes, ears up, and sometimes makes a loud barking noise. To avoid a tiger attack can leap into the air and skip sideways up to15 meters.

When a tiger spots a small herd of spotted deer, Breeden writes, "suddenly the tiger stops in his tracks. He makes not a motion — no tail twitch, no ear movement, not even a whisker quivers. He is frozen in the partial cover of a small patch of grass. As long as he is motionless, the deer can not see him, even at 30 or 40 feet. There is no breeze, so they cannot scent him. Slowly the tiger lies down. For half an hour or more he watches the deer. Then, carefully placing one foot in front of the other so as to not make a sound in the dry leaf litter, he moves himself from bush to bush."

"Though grazing quietly," Breeden continues, "the deer are alert...One sniffs the air, there must be a faint tiger scent, for the doe stamps a forefoot, a sign of mild alarm...The tiger is rigid in a crouch. The doe stamps her foot again, raises her tail, sounds a bell-like alarm call. The tiger bursts from cover, tail erect, ears forward. In unbelievable fast bounds he rushes the deer. They scatter...He misses, snarls, and utters a series of moaning roars." In his ten years with tigers Breeden said he witnessed only one successful kill.



The nilgai is an antelope, and is one of the most commonly seen wild animals of central and northern India and eastern Pakistan; it is also present in parts of southern Nepal. The species has become extinct in Bangladesh. The mature males appear ox-like and are also known as blue bulls. The nilgai is the biggest Asian antelope. A blue bull is called a nil gai or nilgai in India, from nil meaning blue and gai meaning a bovine animal (literally 'cow'). [Source: Wikipedia]

Nilgai stand 1.1 to 1.5 meters at the shoulder and measure 1.7 to 2.1 meters in head-body length, with a 45- to 50-centimeters tail. Males are larger than females, weighing 109 to 288 kg , with a maximum of 308 kg (680 lb), compared with the adult female weight of around 100 to 213 kg (220 to 470 lb).

The nilgai has thin legs and a robust body that slopes down from the shoulder. They show marked sexual dimorphism, with only the males having horns. Adult males have a grey to bluish-grey coat, with white spots on the cheeks and white colouring on the edges of the lips. They also have a white throat bib and a narrow white stripe along the underside of the body that widens at the rear. The tips of the long, tufted tail and of the ears are black. They also possess a tubular-shaped "pennant" of long, coarse hair on the midsection of the throat.

The males have two black, conical horns, arising close together just behind the eyes. The horns project upwards, but are slightly curved forward; they measure between 15 and 24 centimetres in a fully grown adult. Although the horns are usually smooth, in some older males, they may develop ring-shaped ridges near the base. In contrast, females and young are tawny brown in colour, although otherwise with similar markings to the male; they have no horns and only a very small "pennant". Both sexes have an erect mane on the back of the neck, terminating in a bristly "hog-tuft" just above the shoulders.

Nilgai live in grasslands and woodlands where they eat grasses, leaves, buds, and fruit. They avoid dense forest and prefer the plains and low hills with shrubs, but may also be found in cultivated areas. Nilgai are diurnal, and tend to form single-sex herds outside of the breeding season. Herds are not of fixed composition, with individuals joining and rejoining through the year. Female herds typically contain three to six adults, together with their calves, whereas bulls form herds of two to 18 individuals.In winter, male blue bulls form herds of 30 to 100 animals in northern India.

Nilgai herds in Texas have been reported to have an average home range of 4.3 square kilometres (1.7 sq mi). Both males and females mark their territories by defecating in fixed locations on open ground, with piles building up to reach at least 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter. They also possess scent glands on the legs and close to the feet, which they may use to scent mark their daily resting places. They are generally quiet animals, but have been reported to make short guttural grunts when alarmed, and females to make clicking noises when nursing young.

Breeding occurs in late autumn to early winter. Prior to the rut, males compete to establish dominance. Males display to each other by holding their heads erect and presenting the white patch and tassel on their throats. When they fight they often kneel on their front legs and lunge at each other with their antlers. Gestation lasts 243 to 247 days, resulting in the birth of twins in about 50 percent of cases.

Sika Deer

Sika deer are a forest deer found in East Asia from Siberia south through China to Vietnam and Taiwan. These deer are divided into 14 regional subspecies, of which seven are found in Japan. The largest is the ezo-jika, which lives in Hokkaido. Honshu and Kyushu-Shikoku have heir own subspecies.

The sika deer has been kept in parks and farmed centuries and has been introduced to many regions. It it is one meters to 1.5 meter long, not including its 12 to 20 centimeters tail, and weighs 35 to 55 kilograms. Its brownish coat has white spots in the summer and becomes almsot black in the summer, with females sometimes having vague spotting. White hairs on the rumps can flare out like chrysanthemums when the animals are excited.

Sika deer are browsers that live primarily in forests — but are often seen roaming around farmland — and feed on tree leaves, fruits, bamboo, twigs, flowers, buds, acorns and nuts. They have large eyes and a strange haunting whistle. Adults can have large stately antlers.

Eld's Deer

Eld’s deer is a medium-sized deer with a regal and graceful physique. Its legs are thin and long with a long body, large head and thin neck. The rough and course coat turns from reddish brown in summer to dark brown in winter.

Common Names: Eld's deer, brow-antlered deer, thamin; Scientific Name: Rucervus eldii. There are 3 sub-species of Eld's deer: 1) Rucervus eldii eldii: India; 2) Rucervus eldii thamin: Myanmar, westernmost Thailand; 3) Rucervus eldii siamensis: Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Thailand, Viet Nam.

Size: Height: up to 110 centimeters; Length: 150-180 centimeters; Weight: up to 150 kilograms; Antler length: 99 centimeters. Habitat: The deer's natural habitat is the dry, deciduous forests in the Northern and Northeastern Plains of the Dry Forests.

The population has declined by more than 50 percent over the last 15 years. Its current range is now limited to small localised areas within its former range. The Indian sub-species was thought to be extinct, but was rediscovered in the 1950s and there are now concentrated efforts to protect the species. There were similar concerns about Rucervus eldii siamensis, until it was caught on camera traps. Given the species' habit of inhabiting open grasslands, especially near water, Eld's deer have been an easy target for hunters.

Eld's deer species was thought to be on the brink of extinction in Cambodia. However, recent camera traps set by Wildlife Conservation Society showed there are a few herds in Preah Vihear province. They have also been photographed in Stung Treng province in northern Cambodia.

Musk Deer

musk deer

Musk deer are small deer that live in highland areas in central and eastern Asia, particularly in western China and the Himalayas. They are shy, usually feeding at night, and tend to live alone, occasionally in pairs but never in herds. Musk deer are one of the few deer species that lacks antlers. Adults stand about 70 centimeters (20 inches) at the shoulder and are one meter (three feet) long and weigh seven to 18 kilograms. Their coarse hair is usually grayish or yellowish brown.

There are seven species of musk deer, all in Asia, and all in decline. Many live in mountainous areas. Musk deer typically inhabit rocky slopes at altitudes between 2,600 and 3,000 meters. Those found in Tibet can live in areas above 5,000 meters. The animal has well-developed side toes that give it a sure-footedness and allow to scamper around rocks in the snow and even climb trees. Its coat is dark brown, mottled with paler, greyer hair underneath. It has whitish markings on its chin and ears.

Males have a pair of tusks that hang from the upper jaw outside the lips. They are used in fighting. Males also have a small gland under a layer of skin in its abdomen that produces musk, a waxy secretion that is used in perfumes, and Asian folk medicines and aphrodisiacs. It is believed that the male musk deer uses the gland to attract females because it only functions during the month-long mating season, when, not by coincidentally, the animal is hunted.

Musk deer were once poached to near extinction. There numbers have fallen to 50,000 from 500,000 in the not too distant past. In China, musk deer have been raised in captivity since the late 1950s. There are currently several thousand musk deer in captivity. Over the years these deer have been weakened by inbreeding and are prone to illness.

Musk Deer Musk

musk deer skull

Musk is a brown, waxy substance. In India the hairy gland from the musk deer sells for several hundred dollars a piece — more than a year's income for many people who live in places where musk deer are found On the whole sale market one ounce of brown musk powder can sell for for thousands of dollars. Special musk dealers, called "kastriwale", buy the glands from the hunters and sell them to pharmacist who use the gland to make perfume and medicines.

In the old days male musk deer were hunted and killed to get the gland. Since they are shy and difficult for humans to approach they have traditionally mostly been caught with snares and traps. After the animal was killed the gland is cut off and dried on a warm stone. Now the gland can be taken without killing the animal by using tranquilizer guns, subsequently their numbers have increased. Many are still killed though.

Thousands of male musk deer have been killed for their musk pods, a gland that produces the musk that gives the animals their name and has been used in perfumes. The musk can be extracted from live animals, but “musk gatherers,” who can get around $200 to $250 per gland from foreign traders, find it easier to kill the deer. Though perfume makers have found synthetic alternatives to musk, the hunting hasn’t stopped. Musk deer meat is considered a local delicacy, and musk is still used in traditional medicines for treating cardiac, circulatory and respiratory problems.

In the 1990s, the market for musk products in Korea alone was estimated to be worth $125 million. The cost of one pill with musk varied from between $9 and $16 Musk imports in Korea dropped from 1,529 kilograms in 1991 to 393 kilograms in 1993 and 290 kilograms in 1994. Scientist at pharmaceutical companies are trying to come up with a synthetic substitute for musk.

Musk, Perfume and Asian Medicine

Musk is jelly-like secretion from the musk deer. Musk oil sells for $633 an ounce, the most expensive oil used in perfumes. Chanel No. 5 is among the perfumes that contains musk. Musk can be smelled in concentrations as little as 0.00000000000032 of an ounce. In one experiment by International Flavors and Fragrances, women who sniffed musk had shorter menstrual cycles and ovulated more than women who didn't.

In Asia, musk is prescribed to help people digest food, treat malaria, stop convulsions, calm strained nerves, quiet crying babies and provide energy. In India, men mix musk with bitumen, boiled lizard and orchid tubers and take it as a remedy against impotence. In some places it is rubbed on private parts and used as an aphrodisiac.

According to the Chinese government: Musk is an important component of traditional Chinese medicine. It is produced in a musk pod, a gland located in a pouch or sac under the abdomen of the male musk deer. Typically, musk pods are harvested by being removed from the deer via a surgical procedure. They are then air-dried before being cut open to reveal a small, oval-shaped kernel. [Source:,, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

The main chemical compound in musk is muscone, which gives musk its distinctive, persistent odor. The muscone is an important component of many perfumes, but also has medicinal properties.

In traditional Chinese medicine, musk is considered pungent and warm, and is affiliated with the heart and spleen meridians. Its main functions are to promote blood circulation, improve and restore menstrual flow, and relieve pain caused by traumatic injuries. Some practitioners have used musk in combination with herbs to help with slow or difficult childbirth, and to treat sore throats.

Mouse Deer

range of Himalayan musk deer

The mouse deer, or chevrotain, is about the size of a large rabbit. Found in India. Sri Lanka, China and Southeast Asia, it lives in tropical rain forests, dense bush, grasslands, and on hills and mountains, subsisting of nuts, leaves, buds, seeds, fungi, fruit shoots, flowers, and vegetation of various kinds that have fallen from above or are found on the forest floor. The mouse deer is about 42-48 centimeters (a little more than a foot) long, with 5-7 centimeters0long tail. It stands about 30 centimeters at the shoulder and weighs 1.2-2 kilograms. . [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

Mouse deer (Tragulus javanicus) are said to be the smallest deer in the world but they are not a true deer. They are relatives of pigs and have characteristics normally associated with other animals. Like pigs they have four toes on each foot. Like musk deer they have tusks instead of antlers. Like camels they have a three stomach compartments instead of the usual four found in most deer. Their “tusks” are two enlarged teeth, one on either side of the upper jaw.

Mouse deer have large, luminescent eyes, small ears and thin, fragile-looking legs and sharp hooves that give the animal a tippee toe gait. They are largely solitary but also very shy and nervous, freezing when they are alarmed and escaping by running in a zigzag pattern. They signal each other with tiny, impatient stamps. There are four species: two in Southeast Asia, one in India, and a forth, the water chevrotain in west Africa. Their wide distribution suggests they are an ancient species that back to a time when tropical forest blanketed much of Asia and Africa.

Mouse deer have traditionally been hunted in Malaysia's rain forests as a delicacy. The animals are now being raised in captivity in a program aimed at making rain forests economically sustainable. Their small size and poor defenses also has made them an easy mark for leopards and pythins. [National Geographic Earth Almanac, July 1990].

Mouse Deer Characteristics and Behavior

mouse deer mating

Mouse deer are mostly nocturnal animals and they usually are solitary. They like dense bushes to conceal themselves and are quiet, stealthy and skillful and are good at sheltering themselves. Mouse deer temporarily lose their capacity to run after wading in water; thus people have traditionally caught them then. Their gestation period is 5-6 months and they give birth to one or two young each. They reach sexual maturity at about six months.

David Attenborough wrote: “Deer move through the forest browsing in an unhurried confident way. In contrast the chevrotain feed quickly, collecting fallen fruit and leaves from low bushes and digest them immediately. They then retire to a secluded hiding place and then use a technique that, it seems, they were the first to pioneer. They ruminate. Clumps of their hastly gathered meals are retrieved from a front compartment in their stomach where they had been stored and brought back up the throat to be given a second more intensive chewing with the back teeth. With that done, the chevrotain swallows the lump again. This time it continues through the first chamber of the stomach and into a second where it is fermented into a broth. It is a technique that today is used by many species of grazing mammals.”

The Indian spotted chevrotain is 50 to 58 centimeters long, not including its three centimeter tail, and weighs around three kilograms. Native to India and some other areas of South Asia, it is a small, shy creature that likes to hide in rocky perches in the tropical rain forest. Mostly solitary and nocturnal, it has a spotted back and striped flanks and throat. Males sometimes fight using their tusk-like teeth. Females usually give birth to a single young after a five month gestation period.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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