TIGER FOOD - The Sambar Deer - Dishing up a tiger's favorite meals

Number one meal.  The Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor)

Sporting a shaggy dark brown coat, a large male Sambar deer averages up to 160 cm at the shoulder and weighs up to juicy 350 kg. He uses his large and sharp pointed antlers to scare away competitors during the mating season, while his lighter coated, smaller and more graceful female companions look on, quite unperturbed.

This stoic deer flaunts a mane (more prominent in the males) and an always-alert expression that, I presume, could only be the result of constant persecution by the dreaded tiger in his jungle. It ain't a coincidence that the largest among the Indian deer is also the tiger's most
favourite food.

A tiger is not as successful at hunting as mythology would have us believe. It's hit rate is only once in every ten attempts. Therefore it must ensure that the food it hunts down is going to be large enough to satisfy its never-ending hunger and worth the energy it takes to gather it.  The poor Sambar deer fits the tiger's menu perfectly.  A male tiger can feed on an adult Sambar for up to 3-4 days. If he intends to return to the carcass he covers it up with leaves and twigs to protect it from scavengers like vultures and hyenas. A tigress with cubs needs more food and on a regular basis-for her, hunting a Sambar, is a safe and sure gamble to put food on her whole family's table. Smaller prey and she would have had to go hungry.

The Sambar deer is not found in large herds like the Spotted Deer. In fact the male Sambar deer lives a solitary life through most of the year, particularly the young batchelors, whereas females live in small groups, protected by a dominant male. Often, a female is accompanied by a fawn and another youngster from her previous breeding season. They are forest dwellers, mostly living in thick woodland and bamboo groves, feeding on a variety of grasses, leaves, fruits and shrubs. They also love the water and juicy aquatic plants, often wading into lakes like those in Ranthambhore up to their bellies and rolling in muddy waterholes.

Like all other ungulates, the Sambar too has a sharp sense of smell and hearing. These are its primary defence against nasty predators. They know being forewarned of imminent danger is far better than outrunning your enemy in an ambush. When they sense danger; `spotting a tiger, a leopard or their worst nightmare, a pack of wild dogs, it will stamp its foot and make a distinct ringing sound known as 'dhonking' before assessing its options for escape. Tiger trackers will assure you that the alarm call of the Sambar is the most reliable warning of a tiger's presence.

Though no other large ungulate in India has adapted itself to the different forest types and environmental conditions like the Sambar deer, sadly it population is still very vulnerable, reckoned to be only a few tens of thousands left in all of India, because of the pressure on the forests from human settlements and poor protection from illegal hunting outside protected

They remain a treat to see in the wild.

Enjoyed?  Read Part 1 of Tiger Food here.  

Spotted Deer. The staple diet. 


Thanks Meethil, great article!

Holmstrom | over 2 years ago

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