Chital (Axis axis) is a medium-sized species of deer (family Cervidae) native to South Asia, found in the countries of  Nepal, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. They are absent from the drier regions of northwestern India and Pakistan. To the east, they are found in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans (a vast, swampy expanse of land covering the delta of the Ganges in the Indian state of West Bengal and the neighboring country of Bangladesh). Males can reach 90 cm at the shoulder and weigh as much as 110 kg. They are very graceful animals, with rich, orange coats and striking white spots. The stags’ branching antlers only add to the handsome appearance. No other species of cervid in South Asia can compare with the Chital. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful species of deer on the planet.

Like the Small Asian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), the Chital is a globetrotter. It has been introduced to a large number countries and territories – Pakistan, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands (an island chain controlled by India, lying in the Bay of Bengal, between Myanmar to the north and Sumatra to the south), Papua New Guinea, Australia, Hawaii, the continental United States (California, Texas and Florida), Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Croatia (on the islands of Brijuni), Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia. Chital have been quite successful, establishing themselves in many of these countries, even competing with native species of deer. This might be on account of their ability to put up with a wide range of habitats, food sources, and the presence of human beings. They also happen to be prolific breeders. The stories about their dispersal are very interesting.

Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Introduced to the island chain by the British in the 1930s, they multiplied rapidly in the absence of predators. Along with Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus), they present a considerable threat to the islands’ endemic flora and fauna. Experts believe that the deer’s ability to swim enabled it to disperse over the archipelago.

Australia: Chital were introduced to the state of Queensland in Australia by Dr. John Harris between 1800 and 1813. A feral population formed by individuals escaping from farms (where they were bred for venison) successfully established itself in the Charters Towers region. There might be as many as 10,000 deer making up the herds in Queensland.

Hawaii: The deer were introduced to the archipelago when a a group of eight was unloaded on the island of Moloka’i in 1868. They were a gift to the Hawaiian King Kamehameha V. The monarch placed a restriction on the hunting of Chital. Soon, the herds had multiplied to the tens of thousands. Apart from Moloka’i, they are found on the islands of Lana’i and Maui.

California: The San Francisco Zoo introduced Chital to Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, California in 1947. They flourished, reaching a population of several hundred, exploiting the abundant supply of grass, forb and water, despite the presence of native predators such as Bobcats (Lynx rufus) and Pumas (Puma concolor).

Texas: The deer were first introduced to Texas in the 1930s, and quickly established themselves in regions that bore a resemblance to their country of origin. These included the Edwards Plateau, the South Texas Plains and the Texas Coastal Prairie. Feral herds numbering in their thousands then spread across as many as 20 counties of central and southern Texas.

Uruguay-Argentina-Brazil: The first specimens were introduced in the year 1906. Chital spread to the Argentinian provinces of Neuquen, Rio Negro, La Pampa, Buenos Aires, Entre Rios, Corrientes, Santa Fe, Formosa and Chaco and the country of Uruguay. Biologists speculate that they can easily cross the slow-flowing Uruguay River into Brazil to establish viable populations.

Brijuni Islands: This archipelago off the Croatian coast has herds of Chital that were introduced in 1911. They have formed small herds and live inside the Brijuni National Park with a large number of other exotic species – South American Llamas (Lama glama), African Kob (Kobus kob) and Plains Zebra (Equus quagga), and Asian Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus).

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows an illustration of Chital Deer from Richard Lydekker’s ‘The Deer of All Lands; A History of the Family Cervidæ Living and Extinct’, published in 1898. Lydekker was an English naturalist and geographer who served in the Geological Survey of India, studied the palaeofauna of South Asia, laid down the Lydekker Line (separating the biogeographical regions of Wallacea and Sahul) and published multiple works on natural history.

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