Rucervus duvaucelii 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Cervidae

Scientific Name: Rucervus duvaucelii
Species Authority: (G. Cuvier, 1823)
Common Name(s):
English Barasingha, Swamp Deer
French Barasinga, Cerf de Duvaucel
Spanish Ciervo de Duvaucel
Cervus duvaucelii G. Cuvier, 1823
Taxonomic Notes: Most sources during 1945 to 2005 placed the species in the genus Cervus and it is under this genus name that most information is to be found. The species name is often mis-spelt duvauceli, but the correct original spelling, which must be used today, is duvaucelii.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable C1 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2015-01-10
Assessor(s): Duckworth, J.W., Kumar, N.S., Pokharel, C.P., Sagar Baral, H. & Timmins, R.
Reviewer(s): Brook, S.M. & McShea, W.J.
Barasingha is assessed as Vulnerable under criterion C1 because the estimated total population lies between 3,500 and 5,100 animals (not all of which will be mature individuals) and outside of several key populations, the protection status is not secure. Thus, the species is assumed to still be in decline by at least 10% over 24 years (three generations) mostly due to habitat conversion and degradation.

The range is now severely fragmented and the total area of occupancy (AOO) possibly falls below 2,000 km2, if areas of unsuitable habitat within protected areas supporting it are excluded. If the AOO were to be confirmed, then this species may also qualify as Vulnerable based on criterion B2. However, no substantive new information was received in 2014 to enable a full reassessment of this species. This species is reliant upon hands-on management in protected areas and changes in management style could see a resumption of very rapid declines echoing those of the mid-twentieth century.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2013 Vulnerable (VU)
2008 Vulnerable (VU)
1996 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Endangered (E)
1990 Endangered (E)
1988 Endangered (E)
1986 Endangered (E)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Barasingha is currently found in isolated localities in north and central India, and southwestern Nepal. It is extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh (Qureshi et al. 2004, Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008).

Into the early twentieth century, the Barasingha was widely distributed in areas of suitable habitat throughout the Indo–Gangetic plain and the lowlands flanking the southern Himalaya. The range formerly extended eastward across the terai of southern Nepal through the Sundarbans as far as Assam. Barasingha occurred west to the River Indus, into Pakistan, and as far south as the River Godavari area of east-central India (Schaller 1967, Groves 1982, Sankaran 1989). The only known population in Bangladesh was in the Sundarbans, where it has been extinct for perhaps a century. The species may also have been in the northeast of Bangladesh, given its distribution in adjacent India (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008).

Groves (1982) defined three subspecies with distributions (from Qureshi et al. 2004) as follows:
  • R. d. duvaucelii (G. Cuvier, 1823) (Wetland Barasingha): Indo-Gangetic plain, north of the Ganges: Nepal, India, and, where extinct, Pakistan.
  • R. d. branderi Pocock, 1943 (Hard-ground Barasingha): central India, between the rivers Ganges and Godavari.
  • R. d. ranjitsinhi (Groves, 1982) (Eastern Barasingha): Brahmaputra plain; probably disjunct from the nominate for a very long time (Groves 1982): India and, where extinct, Bangladesh.
Countries occurrence:
India; Nepal
Regionally extinct:
Bangladesh; Pakistan
Lower elevation limit (metres): 100
Upper elevation limit (metres): 300
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The present distribution of the Barasingha is much reduced and fragmented, reflecting major losses in the 1930s–1960s through conversion of large tracts of grassland to cropland and through barely-restrained hunting (Qureshi et al. 2004).

The northern subspecies R. d. duvaucelii is the most numerous of the three races, with an estimated wild population is of 1,800–2,400 in India and 1,650–1,800 in Nepal (Qureshi et al. 2004; Chiranjibi Prasad Pokheral, NTNC, in litt. 2008). Schaller (1967) reported R. d. duvaucelii from 15 localities in India of which 11 were in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, three in Assam and one in West Bengal. At present R. d. duvaucelii exists in only six localities in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, two in Assam and none in West Bengal. In Nepal, out of four localities reported by Schaller (1967) only two now hold the species. Holloway (1973) reported a locality additional to Schaller’s, the Katerniaghat Sanctuary in Bahraich district of Uttar Pradesh. According to Qureshi et al. (2004), using data largely from Qureshi et al. (1995), R. d. duvacelii is restricted to Jhilmil tal Wildlife Conservation Reserve (Uttaranchal; no estimate), Hastinapur Sanctuary; Bijnor Forest Divison; Pilibhit Forest Divison (50–90 animals in the early 1990s, about 50 a decade later, centred on the Lagga Bagga forest block of Mahof and Mala ranges; Johnsingh et al. 2004; but a population of about 300 in Lagga Bagga reported in 2008 to B. Long pers. comm. 2008); Kishanpur Sanctuary (about 400 in the early 1990s, Qureshi and Sawarkar 1994; and still “considerable numbers” a decade later, Johnsingh et al. 2004; a population of 600 reported in 2008 to B. Long pers. comm. 2008); Dudhwa National Park, Kheri District (a decline from 1,200–1,500 in 1976 to about 700 by 1993, but still excellent habitat; Johnsingh et al. 2004; a population of 600 reported in 2008 to B. Long pers. comm. 2008); Katerniaghat Sanctuary (10–25 animals in the early 1990s) (all in Uttar Pradesh) in India. There is also a population of over 100 Barasinghas in a small conservation reserve called Tatwala in Hardwar district; this habitat and population is totally isolated from other Barasingha populations (B. Long pers. comm. 2008). A small population was discovered in Uttarakhand state in 2005 in Jhilmil Jheel, an (37 km2) area of Reserve Forest. It persists at two sites in Nepal, Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and Karnali–Bardia Reserve. At the former there was an increase from around 900 in 1976 to around 1,850 animals in 1993 (Henshaw 1993), and since then relative stability: the minimum estimate in a count in April 2007 was of 1,674 animals, making this the largest single population in the world of the subspecies (Chiranjibi Prasad Pokheral, NTNC, in litt. 2008). In 2014, the Swamp Deer population was estimated at 2,301 (H. Baral pers. comm., based on data from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation). At Karnali–Bardia Reserve, at least 34 animals were thought to be present, an increase from six in 1977, by Bauer (1990); during 1995–1996, Chiranjibi Prasad Pokheral (in litt. 2008) recorded about 73 animals in the park. Qureshi et al. (2004) estimated 50–100 animals. Since the assessments of Schaller (1967) populations have apparently gone from Banke Division and Chitawan Division (both Nepal); Jaulasal Sanctuary; Lalkua Sanctuary; Maldhan Sanctuary; along the river Ganges, west of Handpur; between Hardwar and Luksor; Sonaripur Sanctuary; South Kheri Forest Division; Bahdi Tal, six miles west of Bellerain; Ghola and surrounding tracts; Mirchia, bordering Nepal; Jaldapara Sanctuary and surroundings (all India) (Qureshi et al. 2004). Further details of the Indian population of R. d. duvaucelii, estimated to total 3,500–4,000, are summarized in Qureshi et al. (1995); no more recent synthesis was traced.

Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhi is only found in Assam: Kaziranga National Park may have held about 750 animals in 1984, but this had declined to 350–500 by 1994 (Choudhury 1987; Qureshi and Sawarkar 1994). These numbers were not based on methods which quantify confidence in the proposed population size; the first-ever rigorous estimates came from Karanth and Nichols (2000) who recorded a population density of 14 animals per km2 during their surveys in 1996 in Kaziranga National Park. The current status in Manas Tiger Reserve is uncertain (although it reportedly still occurs; B. Long pers. comm. 2008), and the species is extinct in Darang Division along the Bhutan border (Qureshi et al. 2004).

Rucervus duvaucelii branderi survives only in Kanha Tiger Reseve (Madhya Pradesh): the population peaked at an estimated 500 in 1988, an increase from a count of 66 in 1966 (Khajuria and Sinha 1986, Qureshi et al. 2004). In 1995, Karanth and Nichols (2000) estimated population density of three per km2 in Kanha National Park. In 2004, the population was thought to number 300–350 (Qureshi et al. 2004). Other populations had become extinct since the 1960s in Motinala and Karanjia ranges, Mandla District; Balaghat District between Baihar and Lamba; near Amarkantak, Bilaspur District; near Kota, Bilaspur District; Madhya Pradesh-Orissa border Raipur District; West Bastar Division near Tekemeta; West Bastar Division near Kutru in Toynar and Bhairamgarh Range (Qureshi et al. 2004; some different locality names were used in Schaller 1967).

In 1992 there were approximately 50 individuals in five Indian zoos and 300 in various zoos in North America and Europe (Qureshi et al. 2004)
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals: Yes
Population severely fragmented: Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Habitat use differs between Barasingha populations, and is reflected in hoof morphology. Central Indian animals (R. d. branderi) occupy open sal (Shorea robusta) forest with a grass understorey and grass glades; northern animals (R. d. duvaucelii and R. d. ranjitsinhi) are obligate grassland forms, true Swamp Deer, inhabiting flooded tall grassland (Dunbar Brander 1927, Pocock 1943, Johnsingh et al. 2004), and, in Bangladesh, formerly, around mangroves of the Sundarbans (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008). Barasingha is predominantly a grazer (the main forage species are given in Qureshi et al. 2004), but at least R. d. duvaucelii is known to feed occasionally on aquatic plants (C.D. Schaaf pers. comm. 1990), and aquatic plants contribute significantly to the diet of R. d. ranjitsinhi during the monsoon and winter (Qureshi et al. 1994).

The animals disperse in the wet season and congregate in large herds during the dry season, often in response to new growth following fire and the need for drinking water (Henshaw 1991, Qureshi et al. 2004 and references therein). These seasonal movements take animals outside protected areas in at least Dudhwa and Kaziranga (Qureshi et al. 2004). In Dudhwa, mean group sizes during summer, monsoon and winter were 32, 13 and seven respectively; congregations of up to 250 individuals have been seen (Qureshi et al. 1994). The composite home range of herds ranges from 10 to 30 km2 annually (Qureshi et al. 1995).

The Barasingha is polygynous: males and females have a linear hierarchy and during the rut males tend to defend females in oestrous (Schaller 1967, Martin 1977, Schaff 1978, Singh 1985, Qureshi et al. 1995). Mating in R. d. duvaucelii and R. d. branderi occurs during winter; most of the stags are in hard antler by September and they start calling by then. Calling peaks during mid October to November, but occurs within mid August–mid April. As the season progresses, the evening calling peak shifts to morning (Schaller 1967, Martin 1977, Schaff 1978, Singh 1984, Qureshi et al. 1995). Rutting starts for R. d. duvaucelii in August–September, for R. d. branderi in early December and for R. d. ranjitsinhi in April; antler shedding begins by mid January, late April and early October respectively for the three races; fawning peaks in July–August, September-October, and March-April respectively for the three races (Qureshi et al. 2005 and references therein). There is strong fidelity to rutting sites and animals continue to visit those amid cultivation (Schaller 1967, Martin 1977, Schaff 1978, Qureshi et al. 1995).

The Barasingha is monoestrous and monotochus (Qureshi et al. 2004). Females reproduce at the age of two to three years and males older than four years contribute to breeding (Schaller 1967, Martin 1977, Schaff 1978, Qureshi et al. 1995). Gestation lasts 240–250 days (Asdell 1964). The sex ratio in all three subspecies ranged from 40–80 stags per 100 hinds (Schaller 1967, Martin 1977, Schaff 1978, Singh 1984, Sankaran 1989, Qureshi et al. 1995). The low male to female ratio reflects selective predation and poaching (Qureshi et al. 2004). Barasingha females, including the two-year-olds, have reproductive rates of 20–45 fawns per 100 hinds (Schaller 1967, Martin 1977, Schaff 1978, Singh 1984, Sankaran 1989, Qureshi et al. 1995).

Barasingha mortality is largely by predation, flooding (for R. d. duvaucelii and R. d. ranjitsinhii) and poaching. Tiger Panthera tigris is a major predator of Barasingha, there are reports of kills by Leopard P. pardus and Dhole Cuon alpinus (Qureshi et al. 2004). Golden Jackal Canis aureus predation on fawns and yearlings was reported by Singh (1985) and Schaff (1978).

Ecology and behaviour have been studied in several populations; Qureshi et al. (2004) gives an overview of information to date.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater
Generation Length (years): 8

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Barasingha meat is not considered a delicacy, being seen as less palatable than the meat of Hog Deer Axis porcinus and Chital A. axis (Qureshi et al. 1994) but Barasingha are still poached for antlers and meat (to local markets), especially populations outside protected areas permanently or seasonally (Qureshi et al. 2004). The hide is used to manufacture whips and other items (A. Singh pers. comm.).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): It is likely that Barasingha always had a patchy distribution, reflecting the available suitable habitat, and thus was predisposed to local extermination (Groves 1982). In aggregate, habitat conversion has led to its loss from most of its ancestral range. High levels of malaria discouraged settlement, agriculture and thus habitat conversion in the Terai Arc Landscape until recently. The conquering of malaria has made the Indian side of the Terai Arc Landscape "one of the most densely populated regions of [India] and the [human] population is growing at a much higher rate than the rest of [India]. Most of the fertile terai plains have been taken over by agriculture." (Johnsingh et al. 2004: 32). Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary (203 km2) is one of the few remnants of terai habitat in India (Johnsingh et al. 2004). This deer's habitat is now reduced to isolated fragments as a result of agricultural encroachment and the destruction through habitat conversion of wetlands; the wet grasslands were seen as useless areas (they were termed ‘blanks’). Conversion took place largely during the 1930s–1960s (Qureshi et al. 2004). Isolation into small, fragmented, populations increases the likelihood of localised extinctions, including those through chance events such as extreme weather and disease, as well as compounding the effects of ‘situation-normal’ threats like hunting.

Habitat degradation is still problematic within protected areas supporting Barasingha. Grass, timber and fuelwood cutting by local people degrade the surviving habitat, which lies mostly within protected areas, and external threats include change in river dynamics due to human developmental activities, increase in siltation and reduced flow of water during critical periods of summer. Protected area management practices are sometimes questionable, e.g. the current practice of grassland burning to control woody succession needs to be done in form of a mosaic, and harrowing should be discouraged as it seems to deteriorate grassland condition and promote occupation by unpalatable grass species like Cymbopogon spp. Many grasslands and woodlands have weed infestation (e.g. Sesbania spp.); manual weed removal in Dudhwa and Kaziranga yielded good results for habitat of Barasingha (Qureshi et al. 1995, 2004). Although there seems to be no direct analysis of the effect of domestic stock grazing on this deer, in other wild ungulate communities studied in India they cause a major depression of densities of grazing species (e.g. Madhusudan 2004), and pending direct data, this should be assumed to be the case with Barasingha. Barasingha populations recovered in parts of North and Central India once grazing by domestic stock was controlled (Schaller 1967, Martin 1977, Schaff 1978, Singh 1984, Qureshi et al. 1995). Serious efforts remain necessary to control grazing in Hastinapur, Jhilmil tal and Katerniaghat (Qureshi et al. 2004). The grasslands and wetlands of the Terai arc landscape and the obligate species that they support, even those within protected areas are besieged by a multitude of threats which synergistically bode badly for the future (see also Red List accounts for Hog Deer Axis porcinus and Great Indian Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis).

Barasingha meat is not considered a delicacy, being seen as less palatable than the meat of Hog Deer Axis porcinus and Chital A. axis (Qureshi et al. 1994) but Barasingha are still poached for antlers and meat (to local markets), especially populations outside protected areas permanently or seasonally (Qureshi et al. 2004). The hide is used to manufacture whips and other items (A. Singh pers. comm.). Particularly in Bangladesh, hunting seems to have been responsible for national extinction because the Sundarbans mangrove forest is still extensive (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008). It is likely to remain a highly significant threat for populations outside well-secured protected areas.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is listed on CITES – Appendix I. It is a Schedule I species under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) (Qureshi et al. 2004) and it is protected under the Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974 of Bangladesh (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008). Swamp Deer is one of 27 mammal species strictly protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2029 (1973) of Nepal. A PHVA (Population and Habitat Viability Assessment) workshop was conducted at the Wildlife Institute of India in July 1995. In 1995 there were 74 (25:34:15) individuals of R. d. duvaucelii in 10 Indian zoos (Qureshi et al. 1995).

Protected areas form the cornerstone of protecting Barasingha, given its attachment to level, well-watered areas, i.e. those perfect for agriculture. This makes for challenging conservation: “Controlling human disturbance on Lagga Bagga [Pilhibit Forest Division, Terai Arc Landscape, India] is a huge challenge: many people rely on it for firewood, thatch grass and fodder. Intensive protection and participatory management with these people are required to restore the area” (Johnsingh et al. 2004). Lagga Bagga was recently accorded protected area status, as a tiger reserve (B. Long pers. comm. 2008). Lagga Bagga and Kishanpur protected areas are connected by the Pilibhit Forest Division although Barasingha habitat is not contiguous (B. Long pers. comm. 2008). Dudhwa is also close by, and Lagga Bagga is adjacent to Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve of Nepal. These four areas in total hold most of the remaining R. d. duvauvcelii. Not surprisingly, few Barasingha herds now exist outside protected areas; in the Terai Arc Landscape of northern India, Hog Deer and Barasingha had the highest proportions (of all ungulates studied) of their regional populations within protected areas (Johnsingh et al. 2004). Remaining populations outside protected areas seem to be small, scattered, and facing a number of threats difficult to resolve; probably these should be seen as of lower priority than ensuring the persistence of populations within protected areas, but a rigorous assessment of this is needed.

Qureshi et al. (1995) recommended conservation actions which can, over a decade later, be boiled down to maintaining the integrity of the protected areas supporting key populations, with particular attention to:
  1. Curb poaching. The species does not have a high international trade value so poaching must tackled at least partly by and through local communities.
  2. Curb habitat degradation through further fragmentation and over-harvest of plant material from protected habitat.
  3. Develop long-term conservation management security for those areas where significant numbers disperse seasonally out of existing protected areas into surrounding farmland.
  4. Maintain appropriate burning regimes and other active habitat-management measures.
  5. Reduce and eventually cease grazing of domestic stock within protected areas.
All these five issues should be addressed through effectively formulated and implemented protected area-specific management plans, reflecting the fragmented present distribution, the negligible likelihood of ever rejoining populations and that the threats have local causes and thus locally appropriate solutions. Given the wide range of possible threats and, in particular, the apparent necessity for active management of habitats (as well as control of human behaviour), management plans are particularly important to ensure a cohesive approach to conservation of Barasingha within the ecosystem of each protected area. Management plans have been prepared for various protected areas but their current status is not documented here.

One of the subspecies is down to a single herd, and another to just two herds. This makes extinction for a variety of unpredictable factors (e.g. weather, disease) a possibility. Establishment of additional populations of each of these forms a priority (Qureshi et al. 2004). Patches of suitable habitat remain for each form, from which the species has been hunted out and which could, if hunting can be prevented, serve as suitable release areas. Captive breeding is often mentioned as being important for this species, but its conservation benefit is not clear. Each subspecies has protected areas which have–in the nick of time for two subspecies–secured buoyant populations. To expand beyond these, those protected areas retaining the species but not functioning so effectively need strengthening to allow natural recruitment. Establishment of additional herds of the two races down to a single site could be supported by translocations from each one’s sole current herd.

There are ongoing plans in Nepal to translocate some of the deer from Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve to boost the smaller population of Bardia National Park. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation is also looking at the feasibility of re-introducing the species to Chitwan National Park. Swamp Deer was extirpated from Chitwan National Park during the 1960s, possibly due to a combination of factors (e.g. poaching, disease and habitat loss). The re-introduction programme will follow IUCN guidelines and ensure that in case of a catastrophic event in Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve, good numbers are also stocked in other protected areas where the species occurred in the recent past or still occurrs in small numbers.

In Kanha National Park, conservation activities have included dispersal of Tigers Panthera tigris away from main grazing areas, control of poaching, cessation of grass burning, creation of water reservoirs, and reduction in domestic cattle numbers (Khajuria and Sinha 1986). Out-migration of villages from the park has significantly extended Barasingha habitat and protected their traditional fawning and rutting grounds (Qureshi et al. 1994). Another park, Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve, has been enlarged from about 155 km2 to some 305 km2.

Citation: Duckworth, J.W., Kumar, N.S., Pokharel, C.P., Sagar Baral, H. & Timmins, R. 2015. Rucervus duvaucelii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T4257A22167675. . Downloaded on 30 November 2015.
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