Spotting and getting to know the Spotted Deer
Diet and Habitat
The spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonensis) are the deer species most likely to be seen in Sri Lanka, living only on grass, leaves and fruits. In protected areas such as Yala National Park, Wilpattu National Park, Wasgamuwa National Park, and Maduru Oya National Park, they are active primarily during the early morning and evening hours, commonly seen near waterholes. The spotted deer are gregarious and form large herds in the dry lowlands, usually living in groups of between 10 – 60 animals, though herds may include up to 100 animals when habitat conditions are exceptional; like an abundance of water, grassland and vegetation.
Spotted deer are often found in the company of grey langurs, with which they seem to have a symbiotic relationship. Their teamwork forms an ‘enhanced vigilance’ against predators and the spotted deer may gain some extra foraging benefit from the foliage broken by the langurs. The loud alarm call of a spotted deer or langur is a sign that a leopard is hanging around the area, waiting to prey on them.
They are a primary prey for Mugger Crocodiles and Sri Lankan Leopards. The Sri Lankan Jackal often looks out for young fawns as prey.
Personality and Anatomy
Deer scent-mark by rubbing their facial glands against grasses and bushes. They also have glands on their feet, which is used to deposit scent when they mark scrapes on the ground.
Only the male spotted deer have antlers. When these grow, the stumps are covered in a temporary skin filled with fine blood vessels called ‘velvet’. Once grown the velvet dries and deer are sometimes seen rubbing off the dead skin. Males shed their antlers after mating. During the rut they engage in duels to assert dominance in a herd. The pair of antlers which adorns the head of a well-built male deer brings out its personality. Leadership of a group is offered only to a strong male which is capable of overpowering other males.
By Puwathara Jayawardena, Mahoora Senior Naturalist