The Association considers that long-term decisions around the management of deer in Victoria need to be based on accurate data and sound scientific knowledge. To practically support that position, SSAA Victoria has invested in two scientific studies of sambar deer in the past few years.
Sambar Collaring Project
– A Challenging Study
A collaborative sambar deer collaring and tracking pilot project was originally initiated in 2017 by Parks Victoria, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, ACT Parks and Conservation Service, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (National) and SSAA Victoria. The project was designed to ascertain the feasibility of collaring sambar deer and to then gather data on the movement patterns and habitat utilisation of those deer. The project concluded in 2019 and after some delays, the final report has now been released.
The pilot project aimed to learn more about sambar movement patterns in the alpine and subalpine areas. The results gained would be used to create a scientifically based understanding of sambar deer habitat utilisation in those areas. That knowledge would potentially lead to better management decisions, increased recreational hunter success and improve the effectiveness of future control programs where they were deemed necessary.
At the time, the SSAA Victoria President, Denis Moroney said “We are well aware that some of the project’s objectives do not necessarily align exactly with SSAA’s views on deer. However, hunters have long called for accurate data on Sambar deer. Funding the research provides us input into its planning and operation, as well as access to the data.”
The research aimed to answer the following:
- How does deer behaviour/movement vary daily and seasonally against weather variables?
- What is the extent of the home range of a Sambar deer?
- What habitats do deer prefer and how do they use these habitats?
- Where do Sambar from high elevation go in winter? Do they move down the elevation gradient and, if so, how far? Is control of alpine sambar better achieved away from peatlands during the winter months?
To achieve that goal the objective was to catch and fit satellite tracking collars to sambar deer. This was a challenging initiative given that sambar have not been captured and collared in the wild in Australia. The strategy implemented used various methods suited to prevailing environments and conditions including the use of overhead nets and darting.
Despite many attempts, those involved were unable to successfully capture and collar any sambar and the project has now finished. Field science is unpredictable and as any experienced hunter will tell you, sambar are very wary, elusive and highly tuned to the environment.
Despite the setback, valuable insights have been gained from the project that will help future research efforts. SSAA Victoria is pleased to have been involved with this project and welcomes the cooperation shown by the government agencies it partnered.
Sambar Deer Reproductive rates
SSAA Victoria also invested in research carried out by academics through the University of Queensland. While anecdotal information regarding sambar breeding and calving patterns is common among deer hunters, scientifically established biological information about wild sambar in Victoria has been lacking. The study aimed to determine two aspects of deer biology which are well known for temperate deer species (red and fallow), but less well known (and unpublished) for Sambar. These were the verification of a system for aging animals by eruption and wear of molar teeth and a study of the peak period of conception (which in some deer species does not coincide exactly with the rut), and the peak period of calf births.
The report, titled Reproductive seasonality and rate of increase of wild sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) in a new environment, Victoria, Australia, has now been released. A further paper detailing the ageing of Sambar through tooth eruption and wear will be released soon.
Along with a financial contribution, SSAA Victoria members, including members of the Deerstalkers Club, were invited to participate in the research project by collecting jawbones from any animals they took and filling in a detailed data form. CPM volunteers also provided data and jawbones for the research.
The Association believes that decisions regarding hunting and the management of game species should be based on the latest scientific knowledge and data. It will continue to look for future opportunities to contribute to suitable deer-related scientific research.
To access a copy of the collaring report, click here.
To access a precis of the biology paper, click on this link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378432020305029?dgcid=author