Feral Deer Control Kit for the Upper Ovens Valley

Deer Species in North Eastern Victoria and their identification

Victoria has one of the largest populations of deer in Australia (ISC 2023) which include seven species. Three species (Rusa Deer *Cervus timorensis, Chital Deer *Axis axis, Sika Deer *Cervus nippon) are thought to only occur on farms/game reserves (DELWP 2020, Forsyth et al. 2015). Hog Deer *Axis porcinus are located in coastal environments between Tarwin Lower and Point Hicks in southeast Victoria (DELWP 2020). Sambar Deer *Cervus unicolor, Red Deer *Cervus elaphus and Fallow Deer *Dama dama all occur in parts of Victoria including north eastern Victoria. Figure 1 shows the distribution of Red, Fallow, Hog and Sambar Deer in Victoria. 

Table of Contents

Figure 1: Distribution of Red, Fallow, Hog and Sambar Deer in Victoria (Source: Upper Ovens Valley Landcare Group)

A brief description of Sambar, Red and Fallow Deer is provided below (Source: FS 2023 and PD 2023):

Sambar Deer *Cervus unicolor

Sambar Deer (Image 20) are native to the Indian Subcontinent and South-east Asia. They occur in South Australia and New South Wales and are the most widespread species in Victoria, inhabiting much of eastern and parts of central and southwest Victoria (Forsyth et al. 2015, DELWP 2020). Recent reports indicate that there are now Sambar deer in and around the Grampians (FE 2022) this is the main deer species occurring at present in the Upper Ovens Valley region. They are the largest feral deer species in Australia. Male deer (stags or bucks) grow to 160 cm and weigh up to 300 kg. Stags have antlers that grow to 75 cm. The females (hinds or does) grow to 115 cm and weigh up to 230 kg.

They have a coarse coat that is a uniform in colour with individual animals ranging form red-brown to almost black. They have are lighter coloured under the chin, inner legs and under the tail. Ears are rounded, similar to a bat or mouse. They have a thicker coat around the neck like a mane.

When alarmed, they raise their tail and have a distinctive honking/barking call. They are relatively solitary, breed throughout the year, are semi-nocturnal and good swimmers. They graze/browse whatever is available including grasses, shrubs and trees.

Image 20. Sambar Deer (Image source: Abzeco Pty Ltd)

Red Deer *Cervus elaphus

Red Deer (Image 21) are native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. They occur in South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and there are scattered populations throughout Victoria apart from the northwest. The largest population occurs in the Grampians National Park (FE 2022) with a recent new sighting around Harrietville (P. Jacobs pers. comm). They have greatly increased their distribution since the 1980s (Forsyth et al. 2015, DELWP 2020). They are one of the largest deer species in Australia. The stags grow up to 120 cm high and weigh 135-220 kg and have antlers that grow to 90 cm. The hinds grow up to 90 cm high and weigh up to 95 kg. Nose to tail stags are around 1.9 m long and hinds 1.8 m long.

They are a reddish colour during summer and grey-brown in Winter and have a pale rump area. They have long pointed ears. Stags make a distinctive roaring call. The have the largest footprint of the three deer species in the north-east with two pointed toes and round heel. They are very good swimmers. Droppings are roundish often pointed at one end and found in clumps or separately in large numbers (100s) spread over a large area (50 x 60 m) and can be confused with pig, sheep and other deer droppings.

They live in separate male and female herds and breed in April with calves born eight to nine months later. The calves have obvious white spots and a dark stripe down their back for the first three months (PD 2023). They graze/browse grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees. 

Image 21. Red Deer (Image credit: Justin Cally, Arthur Rylah Institute)

Fallow Deer *Dama dama

Fallow Deer (Image 22) are native to Turkey. They are the most widespread deer in Australia with populations in Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia and scattered across Victoria (Forsyth et al. 2015, DELWP 2020) reportedly in low numbers (FE 2022). They are smaller than Sambar and Red Deer. The stags grow to 95 cm high and weigh 60-100 kg. The antlers are flattened and wide. They have an obvious brush like penile sheath. The hinds grow to 80 cm high and weigh 40-50 kg.

They are fawn in colour with white spots or can be dark brown. The have a long black tail that is white underneath and flicks constantly when feeding and a white rump patch.

They raise their tails when alarmed. They make high pitched bleating and deep grunting calls. They can live in herds but can also be solitary. They breed in autumn with an eight month gestation period (birthing in December). They graze/browse grasses, herbs and shrubs close to vegetation cover.

Image 22. Fallow Deer (Image credit: Brendan Attard, Brendan Attard Photography)

Further detailed descriptions can be found in various resources in the Information resources section and the FeralScan (FS 2023) website provides a good deer identification guide which includes images of the different species of male and female deer, habitat descriptions, images of scats and hoof prints for each species of deer.