For the jungle lovers, a sambar making alarm calls is a sure sign of a predator in the vicinity. Sambar is an important deer species of Indian jungles. The animal may not be the most beautiful deer but certainly an important species for the fragile forests ecosystem.
The eyesight of the sambar is weak, however to recompense for this they hold exceptional powers of smell and hearing. So when a predator is close to it, only then does the Sambar react. The internal lining of the nose is covered with specialised skin called epithelium, which is covered by mucus membrane.
The larger the deer, the greater the epithelium surface area and the more acute its sense of smell. It is believed, therefore, that larger, older deer are able to detect odours better than younger ones. The major predators of sambar are tiger & leopard.However, we have seen an interesting incident, where a pair of jackals attacked a large sambar fawn, inside a waterhole, and the jackals killed it. This was perhaps astonishing for the sambar too. The sambar on sighting the pair had not made any alarm call, which meant that the animals did not perceive the jackal as a threat and the pair took benefit of the situation. Later, when the fawn was caught by the jackals, the other sambar’s made alarm calls and ran away from there. Usually, when the Sambar would feel danger, it would stamp its leg and make a ringing call called as poking or belling.
The breeding season (rut) of the sambar is mainly between October and December; however, it has also been reported in other months of the year. A single calf is born after gestation of 8 months. Interestingly, the breeding of Sambar is correlated with its annual antler development cycle. In Ranthambhore, the hard antlers of sambar start shedding in month of May, spectacular velvety antlers start to emerge in the monsoon months.
The male Sambar has the most admirable pair of antlers reaching up to 2.5 feet. The new antlers have a vascular skin which appears like velvet, this velvet supplies oxygen and blood to the growing antlers, when the antler attains full size the velvet drops and hard bony antlers are seen. In winter, their antlers are strong and hard, now the males usually engage in antler wrestling and sparring. The winner would usually put dry grass on the antlers, as a display of the triumph.
An interesting attribute in the species is that the Sambar have special preorbital glands, placed hollow below the eyes. The glands secrete pheromones and other chemicals. The pheromones are rubbed on stems of trees as a means of communication with female for matting, primarily to show the breeding phase. The glands swell during the rutting phase, while they stay diminutive rest of the year.
Also, the male sambar deer demonstrates a distinctive behaviour called wallowing, it would cover itself in wet mud and urinate, and the mud acts like a medium to keep the urine scent for longer, allowing the sambar to send mating signal to the females around, it is like a self-advertisement. It is also a territory marking for other males to show self-dominance.
These wallowing, sparring, scent communications are rituals and behaviour for attracting females for courtship. After a long gestation period of 8 months a single calf is born, and is raised by the mother for a year. Hence the sambar may not be a magnificent creature, but its behaviour certainly is fascinating to watch…