Rusa unicolor Kerr, 1972
by Ms. Nurfarhana Hizan Binti Hijas, Mrs. Nur Alwani Binti Zakaria & Mr. Mohammad Shahfiz Azman
Rusa unicolor Kerr, 1972
by Ms. Nurfarhana Hizan Binti Hijas, Mrs. Nur Alwani Binti Zakaria & Mr. Mohammad Shahfiz Azman

The largest species in the deer family (Cervidae), Rusa unicolor is commonly known as Sambar or Sambar Deer (Leslie, 2011). It is also the most widely sighted species in the world. This species ranges from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal through Burma, Southern China and Indochina, to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is native to Southern and Southeast Asia (Timmins et. al., 2015). Sambar Deer inhabit gently sloping terrain in secondary forests, but can also be found on steep terrain in tall dipterocarp forests and in swamp forests (Francis, 2008).

Generally, the Sambar Deer has predominantly grey-brown skin covered with dark brown hair which is sometimes slightly reddish and darker along the midline. The underparts are the same colour as the upperparts or may even be darker. The tail is bushy, mainly blackish with whitish underside and around the rump area (Francis, 2008). The male is darker in colour than the female with long coarse hair on the neck, back and abdomen. The young are generally lighter in colour and may sometimes have spots (Leslie, 2011).

The male Sambar is one of the largest of Southeast Asia’s deer, measuring 2 metres in length from head to tail and weighing up to 320 kg. The gender of R. unicolor can be distinguished by the presence of antlers in the male. Antlers of mature males are unique among cervids (Leslie, 2011). Even if the antlers have dropped, the males can be distinguished by the pedicle (Matsubayashi et al., 2007). Adult males typically have 3 tines to each antler with one in front and the other two at the tip of the main beam (Francis, 2008).

During the mating season, the Sambar commonly communicates with its partner by scent-marking, foot stamping and sometimes by tree marking. The male deer will guard its territory and try to attract the female deer through vocal and olfactory displays. The gestation period is about 8 months (Leslie, 2011). The Sambar Deer is very alert and silent, and will freeze instantly if disturbed. Several deer may form a defensive formation, touching rumps and vocalizing loudly at the hunting dholes (Asiatic wild dog) or domestic dogs. When facing danger, the deer will stamp its feet and make a ringing call known as "belling" or "pooking". Males use their antlers, while females use their feet to defend themselves against predators.​

Rusa unicolor is herbivorous (Matsubayashi et. al., 2007). It feeds on grasses, herbs, shrubs, young leaves of woody plants and fallen fruits. It will often approach gardens and plantations to feed. It also often visits natural mineral sources, such as wildlife salt licks, particularly the adult male that needs minerals to promote growth of its antlers (Francis, 2008). Natural salt licks are among the most important mineral sources for herbivores, since they have difficulty ingesting a sufficient quantity of certain essential minerals through food, especially in inland terrestrial ecosystems. For Sambar Deer, natural salt licks are important not only for daily supplements but also for reproductive support (Matsubayashi et. al., 2007).

Among predators such as tigers and lions, Sambar Deer is the favourite prey species. Furthermore, Hayward et al. (2012) had reported that Sambar is one of the two most preferred prey species throughout the entire range of tigers, the other being wild boar. It is also an important prey because its widespread distribution in Asia largely overlaps that of the tiger in South Asia, South China and Southeast Asia (Corbett & Hill, 1992).

Due to habitat encroachment and being hunted for sport, food, medicinal products and other purposes, R. unicolor has been categorized as Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN Red List (Timmins et. al., 2015). As a conservation effort to maintain the population and prevent the number of animals from decreasing, the Department of Wildlife with the cooperation of the Perak State Government has established a deer farm at Kampung Manderang, Sungkai. This farm houses a variety of deer species that are left to live freely, as they do in their natural habitat. This farm also provides shelter for certain species of birds and various other wildlife species.


  1. Corbet, G.B. & Hill, J.E. (1992). The Mammals of the Indomalayan Region: A Systematic Review. Oxford University Press, United States of America. pp. 488.
  2. Francis, C.M. (2008). A Field Guide To The Mammals Of South-East Asia. New Holland Publishers, England. pp. 392.
  3. Hayward, M.W., Jedrzejewski, W. & Jedrzejewska, B. (2012). Prey preferences of the tiger Panthera tigris. Journal of Zoology 286 (3): pp. 221-231
  4. Leslie Jr, D.M. (2011). Rusa unicolor (Artiodactyla: Cervidae). Mammalian Species 43 (1): pp. 1-30
  5. Matsubayashi, H., Lagan, P., Majalap-Lee, N., Tangah, J., Abd. Shukor, J.R. & Kitayama, K. (2007). Importance of natural licks for the mammals in Bornean inland tropical rain forests. Ecoological Research 22 (5): pp. 742-748
  6. Timmins, R., Kawanishi, K., Giman, B., Lynam, A., Chan, B., Steinmetz, R., Sagar Baral, H. & Samba Kumar, N. (2015). Rusa unicolor. (errata version published in 2015) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41790A85628124. Retrieved March 15, 2018, from
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