AppearanceThe swamp deer differs from all the Indian deer species in that the antlers carry more than three tines. Because of this distinctive character it is designated barasingha, meaning "twelve-tined." Mature stags have 10 to 14 tines, and some have been known to have up to 20.
The barasingha is a large deer with a shoulder height of 44 to 46 in and a head-to-body length of nearly 6 ft. Its hair is rather woolly and yellowish brown above but paler below, with white spots along the spine. The throat, belly, inside of the thighs and beneath the tail is white. In summer the coat becomes bright rufous-brown. The neck is maned. Females are paler than males. Young are spotted. Average antlers measure 30 in round the curve with a girth of 5 in at mid beam. A record antler measured 104.1 cm round the curve.
Stags weigh 170 to 280 kg. Females are less heavy, weighing about 130 to 145 kg. Large stags have weighed from 460 to 570 lb.
NamingThe specific name commemorates the French naturalist Alfred Duvaucel.
Three subspecies are currently recognized:
⤷ Western swamp deer ''R. d. duvauceli'' – has splayed hooves and is adapted to the flooded tall grassland habitat in the Indo-Gangetic plain; in the early 1990s, populations in India were estimated at 1500–2000 individuals, and 1500–1900 individuals in the Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve of Nepal; latter population reached 2,170 individuals including 385 fawns in spring 2013.
⤷ Southern swamp deer ''R. d. branderi'' – has hard hooves and is adapted to hard ground in open sal forest with a grass understorey; survives only in the Kanha National Park, where the population numbered about 500 individuals in 1988; 300–350 individuals were estimated at the turn of the century;
⤷ Eastern swamp deer ''R. d. ranjitsinhi'' – is only found in Assam, where the population numbered about 700 individuals in 1978; 400–500 individuals were estimated in Kaziranga National Park at the turn of the century.
BehaviorSwamp deer are mainly grazers. They largely feed on grasses and aquatic plants, foremost on ''Saccharum'', ''Imperata cylindrica'', ''Narenga porphyrocoma'', ''Phragmites karka'', ''Oryza rufipogon'', ''Hygroryza'' and ''Hydrilla''. They feed throughout the day with peaks during the mornings and late afternoons to evenings. In winter and monsoon, they drink water twice, and thrice or more in summer. In the hot season, they rest in the shade of trees during the day.
In central India, the herds comprise on average about 8–20 individuals, with large herds of up to 60. There are twice as many females than males. During the rut they form large herds of adults. The breeding season lasts from September to April, and births occur after a gestation of 240–250 days in August to November. The peak is in September and October in Kanha National Park. They give birth to single calves.
When alarmed, they give out shrill, baying alarm calls.
Captive specimens live up to 23 years.
PredatorsSwamp deer lost most of its ancestral range because wetlands were converted and used for agriculture so that their habitat was reduced to small and isolated fragments. The remaining habitat in protected areas is threatened by the change in river dynamics, reduced water flow during summer, increasing siltation, and further degraded by local people who cut grass, timber and fuelwood. The swamp deer populations outside protected areas and seasonally migrating populations are threatened by poaching for antlers and meat, which are sold in local markets.
George Schaller wrote: "Most of these remnants have or soon will have reached the point of no return."
CulturalRudyard Kipling in ''The Second Jungle Book'' featured a barasingha in the chapter "The Miracle of Purun Bhagat" by the name of "barasingh". It befriends Purun Bhagat because the man rubs the stag's velvet off his horns. Purun Bhagat then gives the barasinga nights in the shrine at which he is staying, with his warm fire, along with a few fresh chestnuts every now and then. Later as pay, the stag warns Purun Bhagat and his town about how the mountain on which they live is crumbling.
Barasingha is the state animal of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
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