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Stag parties in Kanha

There is no definite rut, confined to a particular season or part of the year, among chital, even in North India.

M Krishnan |

I looked for stag-parties of chital in the Kanha National Park. Here, as in places in Uttar Pradesh, the deer can be seen in large herds in comparatively open country, and on somewhat similar ground.

In the Masinagudi area of the Mudumalai Sanctuary of Madras, I had repeatedly observed large stag-parties in September-October. In other gregarious deer, such as swamp deer, such seasonal schools of adult males are well known.

Chital are highly gregarious, particularly when living not in tree forests, but in open scrub jungles; but so far as I know, no one before me has reported regular herds of stags among them. I have watched such stag-parties in the Masina gudi area over many years ~ in September- October herds consisting only of stags, at times over 150 in strength, can be seen here; some of the stags are in hard horn, some in velvet and quite a few have polled heads, having just shed their antlers, so that from a distance (and it is hard to get close to these deer in the open country) they look like big hinds.

However, by watching them through glasses as they crossed a ridge in a line, silhouetted against the ……, I had satisfied myself that there were only adult stags in the herd. Sometimes (and this is true of swamp deer, too) an old or subadult hind or two may be found with a school of stags, but this does not make it any the less of stag-party.

In Kanha, I was not able to see any large school of chital stags. But I was there in May; maybe in the cold weather, after the rains, there are big herds of stags to be seen here to, though the grass and herbage will be obscuringly tall then. However, I did see quite a few small parties, from 3 to 9, consisting entirely of stags. These were in hard horn, and among them were some superb animals, with magnificent antlers. Many of them were limping, and carried flesh wounds.

There is no definite rut, confined to a particular season or part of the year, among chital, even in North India; stags in velvet and in hard horn, and very young fawns, may be seen at all seasons. Moreover, the courtship is a rather prolonged process as among most herbivores, though the climatic act of mating is quick, a fact little appreciated by most naturalists and unknown to quite a few of them.

As in most deer, chital stags, when they engage in combat, attack each other from close quarters and with savage fury. The brunt of the sudden forward thrust, with the head lowered and the entire body weight behind it, is usually borne by the clashing, interlocking antlers, one of the combatants gets pushed back after a while, and disengaging its locked antlers, turns quickly round and runs away, but it does not always escape unscathed; a glancing thrust from the antlers of the opponent, following up, often inflicts a nasty flesh wound. Apparently, the limping stags I saw were fellows in misfortune, suffering from such wounds.

This was published on 6 April 1969.