The CHITAL (/tʃɪtl/ ) or CHEETAL (Axis axis), also known as
SPOTTED DEER or AXIS DEER, is a species of deer that is native in the
Indian subcontinent . The species was first described by German
Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in 1777. A
moderate-sized deer, male chital reach nearly 90 centimetres (35 in)
and females 70 centimetres (28 in) at the shoulder. While males weigh
30–75 kilograms (66–165 lb), the lighter females weigh 25–45
kilograms (55–99 lb). The species is sexually dimorphic : males are
larger than females, and antlers are present only on males. The upper
parts are golden to rufous, completely covered in white spots. The
abdomen, rump , throat, insides of legs, ears and tail are all white.
The antlers, three-pronged, are nearly 1 metre (3.3 ft) long.
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Taxonomy and phylogeny
* 3 Description
* 4 Ecology and behaviour
* 4.1 Diet
* 4.2 Reproduction
* 5 Habitat and distribution
* 5.2 The United States
* 7 Gallery
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 External links
The scientific name of the chital is Axis axis. "Axis" has several
possible origins: the Greek axōn, the Lithuanian ašis, or the
Sanskrit akṣaḥ. The vernacular name chital /ˈtʃiːtəl/ is
derived from the Hindi cītal or from the Sanskrit citrala, both of
which mean "variegated", in reference to the spotted coat of the deer
. Another possible origin is from the Sanskrit citra which means
"bright" or "spotted". The name of the cheetah has a similar origin.
Other names for the chital are cheetal, cheetul, Indian spotted deer
or simply the spotted deer, and axis deer.
TAXONOMY AND PHYLOGENY
Phylogenetic relationships of the chital (Pitra et al. 2004)
The chital is the sole member of the genus Axis and is classified
under the family
Cervidae (deer). The species was first described by
Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in 1777.
Hyelaphus – comprising the
Bawean deer (H. kuhli), the
Calamian deer (H. calamianensis ) and the hog deer (H. porcinus) –
was considered a subgenus of Axis. However
Hyelaphus has now been
elevated to generic status a 2004 phylogenetic study showed that
Hyelaphus is closer to the genus Rusa than Axis. The study showed that
Axis is paraphyletic , and distant from
Hyelaphus in the phylogenetic
tree. The chital forms a clade with
Rucervus duvaucelii (barasinga)
and R. schomburgki (Schomburgk's deer). The chital diverged from the
Rucervus lineage in the early
Pliocene (five million years ago). A
2002 study shows that Axis shansius, followed by A. lyra, is the
earliest ancestor in the A. axis lineage. Axis is no longer
considered a subgenus of
The species is considered monotypic . A 1951 paper identified two
subspecies of the chital: A. a. axis and A. a. ceylonensis (Sri
Lankan axis deer ). The validity of these, however, is disputed.
Bandipur National Park
The chital is a moderately sized deer. Males reach nearly 90
centimetres (35 in) and females 70 centimetres (28 in) at the
shoulder; the head-and-body length is around 1.7 metres (5.6 ft).
While males weigh 30–75 kilograms (66–165 lb), the lighter females
weigh 25–45 kilograms (55–99 lb). Exceptionally large males can
weigh up to 98 to 110 kg (216 to 243 lb). The tail, 20 centimetres
(7.9 in) long, is marked by a dark stripe that stretches along its
length. The species is sexually dimorphic : males are larger than
females, and antlers are present only on males.
The dorsal (upper) parts are golden to rufous, completely covered in
white spots. The abdomen, rump , throat, insides of legs, ears and
tail are all white. A conspicuous black stripe runs along the spine
Chital have well-developed preorbital glands (near the
eyes) which have stiff hairs. They also have well-developed
metatarsal glands and pedal glands located in their hind legs. The
preorbital glands, larger in males than in females, are frequently
opened in response to certain stimuli.
Chital at Sunderban.
Each of the antlers has three lines on it. The brow tine (the first
division in the antler) is roughly perpendicular to the beam (the
central stalk of the antler). The antlers, three-pronged, are nearly
1 metre (3.3 ft) long. Antlers, as in most other cervids, are shed
annually. The antlers emerge as soft tissues (known as velvet antlers)
and progressively harden into bony structures (known as hard antlers),
following mineralisation and blockage of blood vessels in the tissue,
from the tip to the base. A study of the mineral composition of the
antlers of captive barasinga, chital and hog deer showed that the
horns of the deer are very similar. The mineral content of the
chital's horns was determined to be (in milligram and ounce per
kilogram): 6.1 milligrams (0.00022 oz) copper, 8.04 milligrams
(0.000284 oz) cobalt and 32.14 milligrams (0.001134 oz) zinc.
Hooves measure between 4.1 and 6.1 centimetres (1.6 and 2.4 in) in
length; hooves of the forelegs are longer than those of the hindlegs.
The toes taper to a point. The dental formula is 0.1.3.33.1.3.3, same
as the elk . The milk canine , nearly 1 centimetre (0.39 in) long,
falls off before one year of age, but is not replaced by a permanent
tooth as in other cervids.
Compared to the hog deer, the chital has a more cursorial build. The
antlers and brow tines are longer than those in the hog deer. The
pedicles (the bony cores from which antlers arise) are shorter and the
auditory bullae are smaller in the chital. The chital may be confused
with the fallow deer . The chital is darker and has several white
spots, whereas the fallow deer has white splotches. The chital has a
prominent white patch on its throat, while the throat of the fallow
deer is completely white. The hairs are smooth and flexible.
ECOLOGY AND BEHAVIOUR
A resting herd of chital
Chital are active throughout the day. In the summer, time is spent in
rest under shade and the sun's glare is avoided if the temperature
reaches 80 °F (27 °C); activity peaks as dusk approaches. As days
grow cooler, foraging begins before sunrise and peaks by early
morning. Activity slows down during midday, when the animals rest or
loiter about slowly. Foraging recommences by late afternoon and
continues till midnight. They fall asleep a few hours before sunrise,
typically in the forest which is cooler than the glades. These deer
typically move in a single file on specific tracks, with a distance of
two to three times their width between them, when on a journey,
typically in search of food and water sources. A study in the Gir
National Park (
India ) showed that chital travel the most in
summer of all seasons. When cautiously inspecting its vicinity, the
chital will stand motionless and hear with rapt attention, facing the
potential danger if any. This stance may be adopted by nearby
individuals as well. As an anti-predator measure, chital will flee in
groups (unlike the hog deer that disperse on alarm); sprints are often
followed by hiding in dense undergrowth . The running chital has its
tail raised, exposing the white underparts. The chital can leap and
clear fences as high as 1.5 metres (4.9 ft), but prefers to dive under
them. It stays within 300 metres (980 ft) of cover.
A gregarious animal, the chital forms matriarchal herds comprising an
adult female and her offspring of the previous and the present year,
which may be associated with individuals of any age and either sex,
male herds and herds of juveniles and mothers. Small herds are
common, though aggregations of as many as 100 individuals have been
observed. Groups are loose and disband frequently, save for the
juvenile-mother herd. Herd membership in
Texas is typically up to 15;
herds can have five to 40 members in
India . Studies in the
Nallamala Hills (
Andhra Pradesh , India) and the Western Ghats
(western coast of India) showed seasonal variation in the sex ratio of
herds; this was attributed to the tendency of females to isolate
themselves ahead of parturition. Similarly, rutting males leave their
herds during the mating season, hence altering the herd composition.
Large herds were most common in monsoon, observed foraging in the
grasslands. Predators of the chital include wolves , Bengal tigers ,
Asiatic lions , leopards , Indian rock pythons , dholes , Indian
pariah dogs and mugger crocodiles . Red foxes and golden jackals
target juveniles. Males are less vulnerable than females and
A vocal animal, the chital, akin to the
North American elk , gives
out bellows and alarm barks. Its calls are, however, not as strong as
those of elk or red deer ; they are mainly coarse bellows or loud
growls. Bellowing coincides with rutting. Dominant males guarding
females in oestrus make high-pitched growls at less powerful males.
Males may moan during aggressive displays or while resting. The
chital, mainly females and juveniles, will bark persistently when
alarmed or if they encounter a predator. Fawns in search of their
mother often squeal. The chital can respond to the alarm calls of
several animals such as the common myna and langurs . The
posture when males try to mark branches or forage
Marking behaviour is pronounced in males. Males have well-developed
preorbital glands (near the eyes). They stand on their hindlegs to
reach tall branches and rub the open preorbital glands to deposit
their scent there. This posture is also used while foraging.
Urine-marking is also observed; the smell of urine is typically
stronger than that of the deposited scent. Sparring between males
begins with the larger male displaying his dominance before the
other-this display consists of hissing heading away from the other
male with the tail facing him, the nose pointing to the ground, the
ears down, the antlers upright and the upper lip raised. The fur often
bristles during the display. The male approaches the other in a slow
gait. Males with velvet antlers may hunch over instead of standing
erect as the males with hard antlers. The opponents then interlock
their horns and push against each other, with the smaller male
producing a sound at times which is louder than that produced by
sambar deer but not as much as the barasinga's. The fight terminates
with the males stepping backward, or simply leaving and foraging.
Fights are not generally serious. Individuals may occasionally bite
one another. Sparring between males
Common myna are often attracted to the chital. An interesting
relationship has been observed between herds of chital and troops of
the northern plains gray langurs , a widespread South Asian monkey.
Chital benefit from the langurs' eyesight and ability to post a
lookout from trees, while the langur benefit from the chital's strong
sense of smell-both of which help keep a check on potential danger.
The chital also benefit from fruits dropped by langurs from trees such
Terminalia bellerica and
Phyllanthus emblica . The chital has
been observed foraging with sambar deer in the Western Ghats.
Chital graze when grasses are available, else they browse.
Grazers as well as browsers , the chital mainly feed on grasses
throughout the year. They prefer young shoots, in the absence of whose
tall and coarse grasses will be nibbled off at the tips. Browse forms
a major portion of the diet only in the winter months-October to
January-when the grasses, tall or dried up, are no more palatable.
Browse includes herbs, shrubs, foliage, fruits and forbs ; Moghania
species are often preferred while browsing. Fruits eaten by chital in
Kanha National Park (
Madhya Pradesh , India) include those of
Ficus species from January to May,
Cordia myxa from May to June,
Syzygium cumini from June to July. Individuals tend to group together
and forage while moving slowly.
Chital are generally silent when
grazing together. Males often stand on their hindlegs to reach tall
branches. Water holes are visited nearly twice daily, with great
caution. In the Kanha National Park, mineral licks rich in calcium
and phosphorus pentoxide were scraped at by the incisors .
Sunderbans may be omnivores ; remains of red crabs have been found
in the rumen of individuals. Copulating chital
Mother with her fawn
Sexual maturity is reached within Breeding takes place throughout
the year, with peaks that vary geographically. Sperms are produced
year-round, though testosterone levels register a fall during the
development of the antlers. Females have regular oestrus cycles, each
lasting three weeks. The female can conceive again two weeks to four
months after the birth. Males sporting hard antlers are dominant over
those in velvet or those without antlers, irrespective of their size.
Courtship is based on tending bonds. A rutting male fasts during the
mating season and follow and guard a female in oestrus. The pair will
do several bouts of chasing and mutual licking before copulation.
The newborn is hidden for a week after birth, a period much shorter
than most other deer. The mother-fawn bond is not very strong, as the
two get separated often, though they can reunite easily as the herds
are cohesive. If the fawn dies, the mother can breed once again so as
to give birth twice that year. The males continue their growth till
seven to eight years. The average lifespan in captivity is nearly 22
years. The longevity in the wild, however, is merely five to ten
The chital is found in large numbers in dense deciduous or
semievergreen forests and open grasslands. The highest numbers of
chital are found in the forests of India, where they feed upon tall
grass and shrubs.
Chital have been also spotted in Phibsoo Wildlife
Sanctuary in Bhutan, which has the only remaining natural sal (Shorea
robusta ) forest in the country. They do not occur at high altitudes,
where they are usually replaced by other species such as the sambar
deer. They also prefer heavy forest cover for shade and avoid direct
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
The chital ranges over 8–30ºN in
India and through
Nepal , Bhutan
Bangladesh , and
Sri Lanka . The western limit of its range is
Gujarat . The northern limit is along the
Bhabar-terai belt of the foothills of the
Himalaya and from Uttar
Uttaranchal through to Nepal, northern
West Bengal and
Sikkim and then to western
Assam and the forested valleys of Bhutan
which are below 1,100 m asl. The eastern limit of its range is
Assam to the
West Bengal (India) and
Sri Lanka is the southern limit.
sporadically in the forested areas throughout the rest of the Indian
peninsula. Within Bangladesh, it currently only exists in the
Sundarbans and some Eco-parks situated around the Bay of Bengal, as it
became extinct in the central and north-east of the country.
The chital was the first species of deer introduced into
the early 1800s by Dr. John Harris, surgeon to the New South Wales
Corps, and he had about 400 of these animals on his property by 1813.
These did not survive and the primary range of the chital is now
confined to a few cattle stations in North
Queensland near Charters
Towers and several feral herds on the NSW north coast. While some of
the stock originated from
Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Indian race likely
is also represented.
THE UNITED STATES
In the 1860s, axis deer were introduced to the island of
Hawaii , as a gift from Hong Kong to
King Kamehameha V . The deer were
Lanai , another of the
Hawaiian Islands , soon afterward
and are now plentiful on both islands. The deer were introduced to
Maui island in the 1950s to increase hunting opportunities. Because
the deer have no natural predators on the Hawaiian islands, their
population is growing 20 to 30% each year, causing serious damage to
agriculture and natural areas.
It was planned to release them on
Hawaii Island as well, but this was
abandoned after pressure from scientists over damage to landscapes
caused by the deer on other islands. In 2012, deer were spotted on
Hawaii; wildlife officials believe people had flown the deer by
helicopter and transported them by boat onto the island. In August
2012, a helicopter pilot pleaded guilty to transporting four axis deer
Maui to the Big Island.
Hawaii law now prohibits "the
intentional possession or interisland transportation or release of
wild or feral deer."
In 1932, axis deer were introduced to
Texas . In 1988,
self-sustaining herds were found in 27 counties, located in central
and southern Texas. The deer are most populous on the Edwards Plateau
, where the land is similar to that of India.
Chital of unknown genetic origin were introduced to
Brijuni Island in
1911, where they still occur today. They can also be found on Rab
Island , and the population on the two island amounts to some 200
individuals. Attempts by hunters to introduce the species to the
Croatia were unsuccessful.
The chital is listed by the
IUCN as being of least concern "because
it occurs over a very wide range within which there are many large
populations". Currently, no range-wide threats to chitals are
present, and they live in many protected areas. However, population
densities are below ecological carrying capacity in many places due to
hunting and competition with domestic livestock. Hunting for the
deer's meat has caused substantial declines and local extinctions.
The axis deer is protected under Schedule III of the Indian Wildlife
Protection Act (1972) and under the Wildlife (Preservation)
(Amendment) Act, 1974 of Bangladesh. Two primary reasons for its good
conservation status are its legal protection as a species and a
network of functioning protected areas.
The chital has been introduced to
Andaman Islands ,
Paraguay , Point Reyes
National Seashore near
San Francisco ,
Alabama , and
Hawaii in the United States, and to the
Veliki Brijun Island in the
Brijuni Archipelago of the Istrian
Spotted deer near
Kanha National Park,
A young chital hiding behind its mother
Herd grazing while one (on left) keeps watch at Sudarnakhali,
Spotted deer in Jaipur zoo
Chital at Lindenthaler Tierpark, Germany
Herd of chital does at Ranthambore National park
A pair of chital at Ranthambore National park
Assam State Zoo
Sri Lankan axis deer
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