Spotted deer adds grace to India’s jungles
Sep 05 2013
Also called a spotted deer, this graceful and glorious deer has a reddish-fawn coat, white spots and white underparts. Chital is endemic to Indian sub-continent. A common sight in Indian forests is of chital herds standing under Senta (Bauhinia racemosa) tree on which langurs forage. It’s a win-win situation to chitals: the langurs foraging atop the tree drop leaves and pods, which provide fodder for them and as long as langurs are at an upper perch they can forewarn the arrival of a predator.
The spotted deer are extremely nervous creatures and are always on the alert for a stalking predator. When a predator is close, the chital makes an alarm call. Tiger trackers tend to take chital alarm not too seriously unless they are repeatedly made or made by more than one animal.
They are social creatures and are always found in large groups. An adult female regulates the group; it has offspring from previous year and a new fawn. Many such units, when combined, make a group big. But the size of the group varies depending on the availability of fodder and season.
Chital is an animal of open grasslands, they are primarily grazers but they may switch to browsing occasionally. They feed mainly on tender grasses just like other deer and antelope. The chital has a four-compartment stomach and chews the cud, which means it partially eats the food and then regurgitates back the semi-digested cud.
I witnessed a heart-wrenching sight one late evening when a female with a young fawn was on a narrow bridge. A tiger chased them, focussing on the trailing fawn. But the mother slowed down, drawing the tiger’s attention towards her. The tiger attacked and killed her while the fawn was saved. The fawn kept making deep mournful sounds. But such are the rules of the jungles.
Like the sambar deer, chital’s mating cycle also depends on the male’s antlers development cycle. However, unlike sambar the male chital makes high pitched rutting sound called bellowing. Chital engages in antler fights to defend its harem of does. Although chital courtship is mainly from May to August, their peak mating season is June to July. Female gives birth to a single fawn after gestation of seven months.
Chitals are important animal for predators. If they are in good numbers, it is an indicator of good health of the ecosystem. So whenever you visit the forest, do appreciate this emotional and innocent animal.
(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)