|Scientific Name:||Axis axis|
|Species Authority:||(Erxleben, 1777)|
|Red List Category & Criteria:||Least Concern ver 3.1|
|Assessor/s:||Duckworth, J.W., Kumar, N.S., Anwarul Islam, Md., Hem Sagar Baral & Timmins, R.J.|
|Reviewer/s:||Black, P.A. & Gonzalez, S. (Deer Red List Authority)|
Chital is listed as Least Concern because it occurs over a very wide range within which there are many large populations. Although it is still declining in some sites (particularly outside protected areas), at the species level any such declines are at nowhere near the rate required to qualify for listing even as Near Threatened. Historical declines may have been higher, but these occurred outside of the three generation window (<30 years) used for purposes of applying Red List Criteria. Listing as Least Concern recognizes that there are two significant conservation issues with this species. Firstly, current densities are mostly well below what the habitat could support (and have been for decades), and secondly, the long-term persistence of nearly all populations is dependent upon well secured protected areas: anything which caused the breakdown of current effective protection would allow a rapid rise in hunting levels and perhaps of domestic stock-grazing. These are the factors with which current Chital numbers are in an uneasy and fragile relationship. If such changes were to occur across a significant part of the range, reassessment of red list status would be required: without effective protection, Chital’s population trend would emulate that of Eld's deer Rucervus eldii, another herding deer of rather open forests, but with a geographic range covering areas without long-standing effective protected areas.
|Range Description:||The Chital occurs over 8–30ºN in India (including Sikkim), Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka (Grubb 2005; Raman in press). The western distribution boundary is formed by eastern Rajasthan (e.g. Sariska, Ranthambore, and Keoladeo Ghana) and Gujarat (e.g. Sasan Gir). The northern boundary runs along the bhabar-terai belt of the foothills of the Himalaya from Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal through Nepal, northern West Bengal and Sikkim to western Assam and the forested valleys of Bhutan below 1,100 m asl. The eastern boundary runs through western Assam (Golapara and Kamrup district as far east as the Dhunsiri River in Darrang district) to the Sunderbans of West Bengal (India) and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka is the southern limit (Gee 1964; Schaller 1967; Raman in press). Chital occur throughout the rest of peninsular India sporadically in the forested areas (Sankar and Acharya 2004), but in Bangladesh, it now occurs only in the Sundarbans, having vanished from the central, north-east and south-east regions (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008).
Chital have been introduced to the Andaman Islands (India, during 1925–1930; Banerji 1955), Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Croatia (islands of Brijuni; Mitchell-Jones et al. 1999), Moldova, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, Uruguay, and the USA (California, Florida, Hawaiian Islands, and Texas) (Grubb 2005; Raman in press). These introduced populations have not been mapped. Not all introductions have succeeded: for example, some were introduced to west-central Slovenia (from the Brijuni islands) in the late 1940s or in 1950, but this introduction failed and is now therefore frequently reported as having been of Fallow Deer Dama dama. One male, shot on 12 October 1950 and now in the Natural History Museum of Slovenia, proves the identification (Krystufek 1999). Managed herds occur in parks throughout the native and introduced range and in many other areas.
Native:Bangladesh; Bhutan; India (Andaman Is. - Introduced); Nepal; Sri Lanka
Introduced:Argentina; Armenia (Armenia); Australia; Brazil; Croatia; Moldova; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Ukraine; United States (Hawaiian Is., Texas); Uruguay
|Range Map:||Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.|
Chital declined drastically throughout its range up until the first two-thirds of the 20th century (see under Major Threats). It is now locally abundant in appropriate habitat throughout its range. In India it occurs in 123 Protected Areas and forest tracts (National Wildlife Database, Wildlife Institute of India in Sankar and Acharya 2004). There are some large populations in Nepal (e.g. Moe and Wegge 1994) where the population is probably currently stable and is anticipated to remain so in the immediate future (Hem Sagar Baral in litt. 2008). Thousands survive in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, Bangladesh, and there are a few introduced populations on coastal islands in the south (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008).
The reported ecological densities of Chital mostly fall within 3–50 animals per km² in India: Bhadra Tiger Reserve, 4.51 +/- 1.05 (SE) per km² (Jathanna et al. 2003); Madhya Pradesh Pench National Park dry deciduous forest, 51.3 animals per km² (Karanth and Nichols 2000); Kanha moist deciduous forest, 49.7 animals per km² (Karanth and Nichols 2000); Nagarahole moist deciduous forest, 50.6 animals per km² (Karanth and Sunquist 1992); Bandipur dry deciduous forest, 20.1 animals per km² (Karanth and Nichols 2000); Tadoba-Andhari dry deciduous forest, 3.2 animals per km² (Karanth and Kumar 2005); Maharashtra Pench dry deciduous forest, 5.8 animals per km² (Karanth and Kumar 2005); Ranthambore semi-arid dry deciduous forest, 38.4 animals per km² (Kumar 2000); and Gir semi-arid dry deciduous forest, 50.8 animals per km² (Khan et al. 1996). Some parts of the well-protected areas in Nagarahole and Bandipur are known to harbour densities as high as 80–100 Chital per km² (N.S. Kumar pers. comm. 2008). The highest population densities, of around 200 Chitals per km², are reported for the Bardia National Park, Nepal (Naess and Andersen 1993; Moe and Wegge 1994) and for the reintroduced population in Guindy National Park, southern India (Menon 1982; Raman et al. 1996). These high densities reflect habitat and food availability in the former area (Moe and Wegge 1994), and supplementary feeding and low predation in the latter (Raman et al. 1996). Population densities in marginal habitats tend to be lower (Raman in press; K.U. Karanth and N.S. Kumar unpublished data). Chital is the most abundant ungulate in Nagarahole, and reaches higher densities in moist than in dry deciduous forests (Karanth and Sunquist 1992). The recorded Bhadra density is low, reflecting poaching and livestock grazing (Jathanna et al. 2003), and the population density is steadily increasing following removal of these pressures in 2003 (K.U. Karanth and N.S. Kumar unpublished data). A study at Nagarahole National Park compared an area which was only moderately hunted with a heavily hunted site. This found respective densities of 65 and 10 Chitals per km² (Madhusudan and Karanth 2002).
The only population in Europe is on the islands of Brijuni (off Istria, Croatia), but B. Krystufek (pers. comm. 2008) has traced no information on its current status. Information has not been sought for this account on introduced populations elsewhere, because they do not contribute to assessing the species’ Red List status.
|Habitat and Ecology:||
Chital thrive in a variety of habitats, but avoids extremes such as dense moist forests and open semi-desert or desert. Moist and dry deciduous forest areas, especially adjoining dry thorn scrub or grasslands appear to be optimal, and highest densities of Chital are reported from these habitats. Short grasslands of the terai, swampy meadows and glades adjoining forest areas, coastal dry evergreen forests, mixed forests or plantations with Teak Tectona grandis and Sal Shorea robusta are also used, and indeed over much of northern and southern India, its distribution closely matches that of Sal and Teak, respectively (Raman in press). Chital is particularly frequent in grassland–forest interface, edge, and other ecotones (Krishnan 1972). Eisenberg and Seidensticker (1976) opined that dry deciduous habitats with scrub is the favoured habitat, while Karanth and Sunquist (1992) found mixed forests with teak plantations, moist deciduous patches and swampy grasslands to support high abundance of Chital. Short grasslands are important because they provide little cover for predators such as Tiger Panthera tigris (Moe and Wegge 1994). The introduced population in Andaman Islands inhabits evergreen forests (Sankar and Acharya 2004) but native populations are absent from the rainforest areas of the mainland. They tend to be only visitors to dense forests, to those adjoining more open habitats. Riverine forests within the Bardia National Park in lowland Nepal are highly used by the deer for shade and cover during the dry season. The forest also provides good foraging with regard to fallen fruit and leaves that are high in nutrients needed by the deer. Four factors were identified by Schaller (1967) as delineating Chital’s distribution: (1) the need for water; (2) the need for shade; (3) an avoidance of high, rugged terrain; and (4) a preference for grass as forage. Although several observers have noted that Chital occurs mostly in flat areas and avoids hills and slopes (Schaller 1967; Khan 1996), this may not hold in areas where preferred habitats or forage is also available on slopes (Raman in press; N.S. Kumar unpublished data). It occurs in both hilly and flatter terrain, mainly the latter, in the Terai Arc Landscape of India (Johnsingh et al. 2004). In the Siwalik hills, Bhat and Rawat (1995) found that Chital preferred slopes of 11–30°, while slopes exceeding 30° were used less. Also, use of south, south-east, and east aspects was higher than of north, north-east, north-west, and west aspects, reflecting the warmer environment of the former aspects. There was no difference in average Chital density in the hills and plains (Bhat and Rawat 1995). A study of coffee estates around Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, India, recorded Chital widely, including in coffee areas up to 14 km of the sanctuary’s boundary (Bali et al. 2007).
Habitat use varies seasonally, reflecting food availability. Chital uses more wooded habitat during the cool-dry season and early summer (November to May), where fallen fruit, leaf litter, and browse are available. In open grassland and tropical dry thorn forest, Chital density increases with the onset of monsoon rains and flush of plant growth (Mishra 1982; Moe and Wegge 1994; Khan 1996; Raman et al. 1996). In areas of their distribution with a mosaic of forest and grassland habitats, seasonal patterns in habitat use may be complex. In the Himalayan terai, Chital use of habitats with high grass availability increased substantially in the weeks following cutting and burning of grasses in January–February, attributed to fresh flush of grass growth after the burns and with the onset pre-monsoon and monsoon rains nearly two months later (Mishra 1982; Moe and Wegge 1994, 1997). Similar behaviour has been reported from the grasslands of Bandipur Tiger Reserve (Johnsingh 1983).
Chital easily habituates to human presence, and herds often congregate in open areas near habitation or forest camps to spend the night, possibly due to greater safety from predators that shy away from these areas (Raman in press).
Chital eats a wide variety of plants: about 160–190 have been recorded from across the species' range. It is predominantly a grazer but consumes more fallen leaves, flowers and fruits in winter/dry season (Sankar 1994; Sankar and Acharya 2004; Raman in press). In addition to plant soft matter, crabs (in the Sunderbans; Stanford 1951), mushrooms (in Nepal; Moe and Wegge 1994), and rarely, bark (Raman et al. 1996) are eaten. Close to human habitation, rubbish and even human faeces are occasionally taken (Raman et al. 1996). Antler and bone chewing is also common. In Wilpattu, Sri Lanka, all age and sex classes are osteophagous, but such feeding was more common in velvet-antlered males, doubtless reflecting mineral needs during antler growth and mineralisation (Barrette 1985). Chital usually drinks water once a day, more frequently in summer. This restricts them to forest tracts with assured presence of water, even if only widely scattered.
In lowland Nepal, an individual’s total range incorporates a core area of about 32 hectares surrounded by foraging and cover areas of about 140 ha for females and 195 ha for males (Moe and Wegge 1994). Variation in range size occurs with site, season, sex and age of the animal. The basic social unit is a matriarchal family group, normally consisting of an adult female, her offspring from the previous year, and a fawn (Ables 1974). The usual herd is composed of two or more such family units and is often accompanied by individual deer of mixed sex and age-classes. Chital exhibits a fission-fusion system, or fluid group formation and dissolution (Schaller 1967; Mishra 1982; Barette 1991). Group composition changes frequently during feeding periods, during the rut when males frequently join groups of females (Schaller 1967), and while fleeing from predators (Dinerstein 1980). These social groupings of Chital do not remain permanent (Schaller 1967; Eisenberg and Lockhart 1972). Groups may number up to 150 or more individuals (De and Spillit 1966; Schaller 1967; Eisenberg and Lockhart 1972; Krishnan 1972; Fuchs 1977; Karanth and Sunquist 1992), sometimes even more: N.S. Kumar (pers. comm. 2008) counted 211 in one group during rainy season in Nagarahole and 203 in one group at Pench-Maharashtra near a water reservoir in summer. Measured sex ratios have all been biased towards females (Sankar and Acharya 2004 and references therein). Pariwakam (2006) observed nearly 10,500 Chital in Bandipur and estimated the proportion of Chital in different age and sex classes as stags 27%, does 57% and fawns 16%. In neighbouring Nagarahole, age-sex categories of Chital were adult stags 26%, adult does 36%, yearling males 8%, yearling females 9% and young 21% (Karanth and Sunquist 1992). Breeding can occur at any time of year but there is some peaking at any given locality (Sankar and Acharya 2004 and references therein). Heavy mortality of fawns in early weeks has been observed by several workers and fawn survival appears to be a key determinant of Chital population growth (Schaller 1967). Schaller (1967) estimated an annual fawn mortality of 48% in Kanha, Sharathchandra and Gadgil (1975) estimated a constant monthly mortality of 26% over first nine months in Bandipur, Raman (1996) estimated a mean monthly mortality of 9.7% in Guindy. Pariwakam (2006) for the first time used a rigorous photographic capture-recapture approach to estimate the fawn mortality rate, and found it to be 66% over a 6-week study period in Bandipur. Further information on sociality and breeding is synthesised by Sankar and Acharya (2004) and by Raman (in press).
Chital is a prolific breeder, as documented by several empirical studies of the speed of increase by newly introduced populations or in those where a factor restraining populations was removed (Raman in press and references therein). In Bhadra, following the departure from the park of human settlements and consequent removal of anthropogenic pressures on Chital and habitats, Chital populations bounced back by nearly seven times in fewer than four years (K.U. Karanth and N.S. Kumar unpublished data). Karanth et al. (1999) earlier documented their empirical observations of the recovery of Chital populations in Nagarahole. This and its diverse diet and habitats allow high density where threats are controlled. It is even considered to be a pest in the Andamans (Banerji 1955).
The main causes of death are predation, diseases, and accidents. Occasionally, stags kill each other when fighting (Sankar and Acharya 2004 and references therein). Predation is by far the major cause of Chital mortality. Older Chital stags are more susceptible to it than are younger stags (Johnsingh 1983; Patel 1992; Karanth and Sunquist 1995). This may be due to their being less vigilant during rut, to their separation from the group after the rut, or to weakening from injuries from conflicts. In Kanha, Chital remains were found in about 52% of Tiger faeces and 59% of Leopard Panthera pardus faeces analysed (Schaller 1967). In Bandipur, Chital is the most important prey in terms of the biomass taken by Dhole (78%), Leopard (55%) and Tiger (19%) (Andheria et al. 2007). Even in terms of the relative number of individuals taken, Chital is the predominant prey among the three large sympatric predators (Tigers about 33%, Leopards about 39% and Dholes about 73% in Bandipur; Andheria et al. 2007). In adjoining Nagarahole remains were found in about 31% of Tiger faeces, 44% of Leopard faeces, and 50% of Dhole faeces (Karanth and Sunquist 1995). In Sariska, around 54% of the faeces of Tiger and 21% of Leopard faeces contained Chital remains (Sankar 1994). Chital remains were found in about 53% of Tiger faeces in Pench (Biswas and Sankar 2002) and 61% of Tiger faeces in Ranthambore (Bagchi et al. 2003).
Each Chital spends a major portion of its life in foraging, resting, and wandering within its range, with the relative extent of these activities determined by season (Schaller 1967). In a day, peak feeding times are around dawn and dusk. There are usually two major resting periods, before dawn and mid-day (Sankar and Acharya 2004).
Considerable further detail on ecology, drawn from the relative wealth of studies on the species, with each item precisely referenced to source, is provided by Raman (in press).
There are presently no major global-level threats to Chital, although densities are widely below ecological carrying capacity, through hunting and competition with domestic livestock. There were substantial declines and local extinctions, driven by hunting for meat, extermination as an agricultural pest, and habitat conversion, particularly during British rule of India and adjacent countries, and immediately after independence (Raman in press). Fewer than 20 years after independence, Schaller (1967) wrote that "...the species has declined drastically throughout its range in India, and is now only locally abundant in some sanctuaries and forest tracts. The remaining populations are highly vulnerable to poaching, habitat destruction, and other forms of decimation". The habitat loss of the past few centuries means that populations are now rather fragmented. Now, in India, most populations appear secure within the modern protected area network (Raman in press), but those outside (now highly localised) are under rapid decline due to habitat conversion and extensive hunting (N.S. Kumar pers. comm. 2008). A relaxation of protection can lead to rapid decreases. For example, Chital used to be numerically the most abundant large herbivore in the Wilpattu National Park (Sri Lanka), but numbers declined significantly due to poaching which increased during management breakdown during the civil war, when its meat was even being sold next to the park. Poaching has also risen, for the same reason, in several other national parks in Sri Lanka (Santiapillai and Wijeyamohan 2003). Where not prevented by effective conservation measures (active protection through patrolling and law enforcement, backed up by adequate awareness), people avidly hunt and poach Chital throughout their Indian range (Madhusudan and Karanth 2000, 2002; Sankar and Acharya 2004; Bali et al. 2007) and there are occasional cases in even the best secured protected areas such as Corbett Tiger Reserve (Johnsingh et al. 2004). Many protected areas are well enough secured that the species has thrived well and, is now locally abundant (Sankar and Acharya 2004) and in such areas poaching of Chital is a more serious conservation problem for the large predators (every deer poached reduces predators’ food base; Karanth et al. 2004) than it is for Chital itself. In many other protected areas (especially those with a lower public profile) and for areas outside the conservation system, populations are severely restrained by hunting. For example, densities in Bhadra Tiger Reserve are very low by comparison with what the habitat should support because of poaching with snares, dogs, and shotguns, and also grazing competition with domestic stock (Jathanna et al. 2003), and the density was 87 percent lower in a heavily hunted area of Nagarahole National Park than in a well secured area (Madhusudan and Karanth 2000, 2002). Even though all hunting is illegal in this protected area, protection efficacy is uneven across the area. The Chital is one of the two most commonly hunted mammal species in the national park, partly because various facets of its behaviour and ecology such as herding behaviour and attachment to open habitat allow its ready detection and killing, and quick entry and exit by poachers. It is therefore exposed to far higher hunting pressure than are the ungulates which are solitary and spend much time in dense cover (Madhusudan and Karanth 2002). Poaching is probably operative to a greater or lesser extent in most populations, but at low enough levels that recent decades have not seen, with Chital, the frequent local extirpations from areas of prime habitat of earlier decades.
The most serious threat, in areas where poaching and habitat conversion are well controlled, is the reduction in carrying capacity through competition with livestock, especially during the pinch season as observed in Sariska (Sankar 1994); Chital and livestock are known to have dietary overlap (Raman in press). The problem has been documented almost throughout Chital’s range but awareness that it is a problem at all remains so low that it is not even recognised as a key conservation issue in many protected areas (e.g. Mathai 1999). In Gir Lion Sanctuary and National Park, Chital population density increased 14-fold from 3.57 animals per km² in 1970–1971 (Berwick 1974) to 50.8 animals per km² in 1989 (Khan 1996; Khan et al. 1996). This was attributed to the rapid and complete removal of pastoral settlements, their livestock, and a total ban on several thousand migratory livestock. Dung densities of Chital and livestock were also negatively correlated in Gir, indicating avoidance and possible competitive interaction between the species. With removal of human impact and increase in forage availability, Chital population increased, as testified by higher Chital densities in the vicinity of abandoned settlements (nesses; Sharma and Johnsingh 1995). Similarly, in Bardia National Park (Nepal), protection from livestock grazing (and logging) in 1975 increased measured Chital populations from 30–34 per km² in 1977 (Dinerstein 1980) to over 200 per km² in the early 1990s (Naess and Andersen 1993; Moe and Wegge 1994). In Bandipur Tiger Reserve, mean densities of Chital were 11 times higher in livestock-free areas than in adjacent livestock-grazed areas. In shared grazing areas, these Chital densities declined sharply with increasing livestock densities. In the studied grazed area, halving the livestock density allowed an increase in Chital density by a factor of five (Madhusudan 2004). Threats to southern India’s forest ungulates by competition with domestic stock grazing within protected areas are exacerbated where dung is collected for export to adjacent coffee areas. Fuel wood removal may also be at levels sufficient to disrupt nutrient cycles of the habitat (Madhusudan 2005). All these pressures interact to have, overall, a major depression of Chital densities. In Bhadra, following the departure from the park of human settlements and consequent removal of anthropogenic pressures on Chital and habitats, Chital populations bounced back by nearly seven times in fewer than four years (Karanth and Kumar unpublished data). Karanth et al. (1999) earlier documented their empirical observations of the recovery of Chital populations in Nagarahole.
Chital are susceptible to livestock-borne diseases such as rinderpest (Schaller 1967) and foot-and-mouth disease (Sankar 1994) but the current population is too widespread for these to rank as potential global-level threats. Accidents, especially from speeding vehicles, are a cause of Chital mortality but occur rarely within protected areas and cannot be significant at the global level. Many Indian forest areas are severely encroached by exotics such as Lantana camara, Parthenium spp. and Chromolaena odorata (= Eupatorium odoratum), and these are suspected to effect major changes to forest structure (Hiremath and Sundaram 2005): but their effects on Chital populations warrant further study. Wild-ranging domestic dogs are also likely to be a problem (Raman in press), but no study quantifying their effects has been traced. There are no predictable threats to the Sundarbans population of Bangladesh, but as a low-lying area extreme weather events might cause episodic major population removal, as happened with hurricane Sidr in November 2007 (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008).
The Chital is protected under Schedule III of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) (Sankar and Acharya 2004) and under the Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974 of Bangladesh (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008). It occurs in many protected areas. Legal protection as a species and a network of functioning protected areas are the two cornerstones of its current healthy conservation status. Populations exceeding 20,000 Chitals probably occur in and around a handful of conservation areas within India: the belt of about 3,000 km² between Koh river and Haldwani including the Corbett Tiger Reserve; the Gir Protected Area (about 1,400 km²); Kanha Tiger Reserve (about 2,000 km²); and the Nilgiris–Western Ghats sector including Nagarahole, Bandipur, and Mudumalai (about 5,000 km²) (Raman in press). Protected areas support more Chitals than do non-protected areas in the Terai Arc Landscape of India, although there is not currently such a great difference in densities as with the grassland species (Barasingha Rucervus duvaucelii and Hog Deer Axis porcinus) (Johnsingh et al. 2004). Ongoing habitat conversion trends outside protected areas will continue to increase the relative proportion of the total Chital population that they hold, and the maintenance of an extensive network of functional protected areas will remain the foundation of this species’s healthy conservation status. Part of this responsibility is vigilance by staff and partners of illegal poaching, which takes place at varying levels in most of the species range. Some recent cases have involved high-profile public role models such as actors poaching Chital and these warrant heavy court penalties. There is a strong case for prevention of livestock grazing in protected areas which hold Chital, partly to reduce risks of disease transmission, but mostly to prevent artificially low densities of Chital being forced through competition (see Major Threats).
Chital populations have been studied in: Corbett (De and Spillit 1966), Kanha (Schaller 1967), Bandipur (Johnsingh 1983), Nagarahole (Karanth and Sunquist 1992), Sariska (Sankar 1994), Gir (Khan et al. 1995, 1996), Guindy (Raman 1996, Raman et al. 1996), Pench (Biswas and Sankar 2002), Ranthambore (Bagchi et al. 2003) in India, Chitwan (Seidensticker 1976; Mishra 1982) and Karnali-Bardia (Dinerstein 1980; Moe and Wegge 1994, 1997) in Nepal, and Wilpattu (Eisenberg and Lockhart 1972) in Sri Lanka.
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|Citation:||Duckworth, J.W., Kumar, N.S., Anwarul Islam, Md., Hem Sagar Baral & Timmins, R.J. 2008. Axis axis. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 10 March 2014.|
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