Sunday, January 08, 2012

A deer tale in Borneo

IN recent weeks, I have seen two species of European deer: the artifi cial ones decorating shopping malls in Malaysia, Singapore and the UK with their glittering lights towing Santa’s sleigh, as well as two live deer in the fields beyond my house in South West England.

The Santa sleigh deer – reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) – is native to Northern Eurasia and North America.

Today, the Lapps in North Western Europe and the Tungus and Yakut peoples in Northern Siberia breed reindeer.

A herd has even survived in the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland for over 40 years.

In the fi elds of a deep valley beyond my house, when taking two Chinese visitors on a ramble with my dog, we saw red deer (Cervus elaphus).

The red deer migrated to Britain from the European continent 11,000 years ago, when the English Channel was covered in ice near the end of the Pleistocene Ice Ages.

Carbon 14 dating has accurately identified the age of their antlers and long past lives in the UK.

The red deer now lives, in herds, in my nearest National Park on Exmoor, in valley woodlands and on the high exposed moors.

I know of one particular valley where I can guarantee my house visitors a view of 10 to 15 deer at almost any time and, during the rutting (mating) season, the sight of a magnificent stag with his huge, branching antlers held proudly aloft.

Photo shoots abound.

Having seen deer in public parks in China, my friends enquired about the species of deer I had observed in Asia.

Apart from the Shika deer – messengers from the gods – of Nara Park at Japan’s first national capital in Western Honshu, where the deer are tame, my encounters with wild deer have always been in East Malaysia.

The Bornean deer are all classified in the Cites lists as vulnerable verging on endangered species.

All deer are ungulates (hoof shaped animals) of the species Cervidae.

Muddy slightly crescent shaped imprints abound on paths and the sides of riverbanks.

Most deer have a facial gland set either in front of their eyes or beneath their chins, which secrete a strongly scented pheromone (a chemical to infl uence another animal’s behaviour) and this it does to excellent effect in the mating season to deter other deer from its territory.

(No wonder my dog has to be bathed at that time of the year when she comes back stinking of strong odours after rolling in a bed of reeds.) Interestingly in many classical paintings of deer, a teardrop seems to emerge from a deer’s eye – a sad-looking deer.

What the painter has not realised is that the deer is in love.

All deer are uni-parental, in that, after birth, it is the mother deer (doe) that cares for the offspring, whilst the stag disappears until he emerges, perhaps amongst other herds, to fi ght with opposing stags over his right to sire.

The Bornean yellow muntjac (Muntiacus atherodes) only occurs here and can be seen in the lowland areas of Gunung Gading, Lundu and near Bintulu as well as in the Mulu and Niah National Parks in Sarawak.

I have also seen them at the Danum Valley Conservation Area, alongside the River Danum in Sabah.

They are often referred to as barking deer, for they communicate with dog-like yelps, and are even considered a relic species of deer.

With antlers only seven centimetres long and a shoulder height of 50 centimetres, they are confi ned to moist forest areas alongside riverbanks and are easy game for poachers as they live essentially on herbs, grasses and seeds.

These are a subspecies of the Bornean red muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak), which is more evident in the Danum Valley.

Both species of deer are diurnal in their habits.

The mouse deer of Borneo is the tiniest of all deer, yet it is the one most mentioned in Malaysian folklore as a shy and timid creature, which always gets the better of bigger and stronger animals (apart from human poachers) through its superb cunning in order to survive.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: A deer tale in Borneo

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