Axis axis (Erxleben 1777)
Order Artiodactyla : Family Cervidae
DESCRIPTION. A moderately large, spotted deer with three tines on each antler; the brow tine forms a nearly right angle with the beam, and the front (or outer) tine of the terminal fork is much longer than the hind (or inner) tine; a gland-bearing cleft is present on the front of the pastern of the hind foot; upperparts yellowish brown to rufous brown, profusely dappled with white spots; abdomen, rump, throat, insides of legs and ears, and underside of tail white; dark stripe from nape to near tip of tail. Dental formula as in Cervus canadensis (I 0/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/3, M 3/3 × 2 = 34), but upper canines (the so-called elk teeth) usually lacking. Averages for external measurements: of males, total length, 1.7 m; tail, 200 mm; height at shoulder, 90 cm; females smaller and usually without antlers. Weight of males, 30–75 kg; of females 25–45 kg.
DISTRIBUTION. Native to India, where it is known as the chital, the axis deer was introduced into Texas in about 1932 and now occurs in a number of counties in the central and southern part of the state, with more than 15,000 free-living individuals. Axis deer are the most abundant exotic ungulate in Texas.
HABITS. Axis deer are inhabitants of secondary forest lands broken here and there by glades (with an understory of grasses, forbs, and tender shoots) that supply adequate drinking water and shade. They tend to avoid rugged terrain. Their food consists largely of grasses in all seasons, augmented with browse. Green grasses <10 cm high seem to be preferred. In Texas, they graze on grasses such as paspalum, switchgrass, and little bluestem. Sedges are favorite spring foods. Browse species include live oak, hackberry, and sumac.
These animals are gregarious and usually are found in herds ranging from a few animals to more than 100. In each herd, the leader is usually an old, experienced doe. Unlike our native deer, adult male axis deer normally are found living with herds of young and old animals of both sexes. Anatomically, axis deer are more closely allied to the elk than to our native deer. Like our elk, rutting male axis deer emit bugle-like bellows, and both sexes have alarm calls or barks.
The reproductive pattern in axis deer is similar to that in domestic cattle. In the wild, bucks with hardened antlers and in rutting condition may be found throughout the year. Each buck seems to have a reproductive cycle of its own, which may not be synchronized with that of other bucks in the herd. Consequently, when some bucks are coming into rut, others are going out or are in a nonbreeding condition, with no antlers and with their testes quiescent. Likewise, females experience estrous cycles throughout the year, with each cycle lasting about 3 weeks. Pregnant females may be found throughout the year, but the major breeding season lasts from mid-May through August with a June–July peak in activity. The bucks make no attempt to collect or retain harems of does, but instead they seek out and service the does in each herd as they become receptive.
Normally, only one fawn is produced per pregnancy after a gestation period of 210–238 days. Reflecting the summer peak in rutting activity, nearly 80% of Texas fawns are born in early January to mid-April, although fawns may arrive in all seasons. Following parturition, females again mate during the subsequent breeding period. Twins are rare.
Fawns begin eating green forage by 5.5 weeks of age, but weaning is delayed until 4–6 months. Permanent dentition is acquired when 2.5–3 years of age, and adult size is reached at 6 years for females and 4–5 years for males. Possibly does may breed in the breeding season following birth, but most do not breed until the following season, when 14–17 months of age. Life span is 9–13 years, although zoo animals may reach 18–22 years of age.
POPULATION STATUS. Introduced, common. This exotic species is mostly found on managed ranches, many under high fence, but with several free-living individuals now established. Axis deer are very common throughout much of the Hill Country region.
CONSERVATION STATUS. The IUCN lists the axis deer as a species of least concern. It does not appear on any federal or state lists of concerned species. Its effect on the native fauna and flora has not been fully determined and should be monitored so that action can be taken, as necessary, to protect our native wildlife.
REMARKS. A large, free-ranging herd occurs on the Texas Tech University campus at Junction, Kimble County, and on surrounding ranches. Robert Stubblefield (Texas Tech University) photographed axis and white-tailed deer during the recent droughts (2010–2013), and during this time the axis deer appeared to be fat and sleek whereas the white-tail deer were extremely thin and starving. During 2012, 13 adult white-tails succumbed to the drought on the 121 ha property, but no deceased axis deer were found. Research at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area (Kerr County) suggests that axis deer can outcompete white-tailed deer if resources are limited.
From The Mammals of Texas, Seventh Edition by David J. Schmidly and Robert D. Bradley, copyright © 1994, 2004, 2016. Courtesy of the University of Texas Press.