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Cerf sambar © MNHN - P. Roux

Sambar deer

The sambar deer, Rusa unicolor, is the largest deer in Asia. Although it has the broadest range, it is endangered in some areas.


Classs, order & family :

Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Cervidae

Genus :


Species :


Lifespan :

26 years

Height and weight :

1.50 m at the shoulder; 350 kg at the most

Gestation :

8 months, one baby

Natural habitat :

Tropical rainforests

Diet :

leaves, bark, fruit, aquatic plants

Native region :

India, China, south-east Asia

IUCN status: 

VU vulnerable

Way of life

Timid in nature, the sambar deer spends the day sleeping out of sight in the woods, only going out at dusk in order to feed, sometimes in the marshes and lakes where it pulls up its favourite plants from the sandy bottom.

The males are solitary and tolerate each other, except during the rutting period. They can “stand up” on their hind legs to fight each other, mark branches with their preorbital glands or grab leaves from up to 3 metres high. Females live in small herds with their young.

Distinguishing features

Despite its impressive size, its antlers do not exceed six branches. It has a monochrome brownish-black coat, with a small dense mane at the neck.

A good swimmer, the sambar is always ready to take refuge in rivers to escape its predators: the tiger and the dhole.

Standing on their hind legs, they are able to reach foliage at a height of 3 metres.


The sambar deer can be found in all environments from India to south-east Asia, including Borneo, Sumatra and Taiwan, from sea level to the foothills of the Himalayas, up to an altitude of 3,900 m. The main threats to the species are hunting, poaching, traditional medicine, competition with livestock, territory fragmentation and loss of habitat. Outside of protected areas its numbers are in decline, and it has already disappeared locally.

It has been introduced as game in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

Cerf sambar © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Cerf sambar © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Cerf sambar © MNHN - P. Roux