Hog deer (Axis porcinus)

Also known as: Indochinese hog deer, Thai hog deer
Synonyms: Cervus porcinus, Hyelaphus porcinus
  
French: Cerf Des Marais, Cerf-cochon, Cerf-cochon D'Indochine
Spanish: Ciervo Porquerizo De Indochina
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCetartiodactyla
FamilyCervidae
GenusAxis (1)
SizeShouldered height: 66 – 74 cm (2)
Weight36 – 45 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

Once widespread and relatively abundant, the hog deer has suffered dramatic declines, and now survives in relict populations, scattered across South and Southeast Asia (1). A medium-sized deer, the hog deer has a yellowish-brown pelage, with darker underparts fading into light tufts of fur around the legs. Young deer have a lightly spotted coat, but over time the spotting fades away and the coat becomes uniform in colour. The hog deer is similar in appearance to other species of the genus Axis, but distinguished by a short face, with a steep profile, and a low, heavy build (2). Whilst running through vegetation, the hog deer holds its head low, creeping under bushes in the manner of a hog, a behaviour leading to its common name (4).  

Historically, the hog deer had a widespread range from Pakistan through India, to southern China and Indochina. However, presently, the hog deer exists in highly fragmented populations in Pakistan, northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and western Myanmar (1). It has been almost entirely extirpated from Indochina, but a small population of several dozen individuals remains near the Mekong River in Kratie Province, Cambodia, and a further population numbering several individuals is found in Koh Kong province, southwest Cambodia (5) (6). The hog deer has also been reintroduced into Thailand, and has been introduced to Australia, Sri Lanka and the United States (1).

The hog deer is typically found in tall grasslands and reed beds on floodplains bordering major rivers. It prefers more open habitats, avoiding closed forest, and will also enter scrubland and agricultural landscapes (1) (7) (8). 

The hog deer is a largely solitary species, but is often found in pairs, with females forming close relationships with their juvenile offspring. Although most active at dawn and dusk, and occasionally during the day, the hog deer tends to be more nocturnal in areas with heavy hunting pressure (1) (5). The hog deer feeds upon a variety of grasses, although it will occasionally forage on leaves and other plant parts, feeding during cooler periods, and digesting in the shade during the heat of the day (7). Home ranges vary in size with food availability, and groups of up to 80 individuals have been observed collectively feeding in areas of good grassland (4).  

Between September and October in India and Nepal, and September and February in China, males enter sparring competitions called ‘ruts’ (1). Males compete vigorously for the attention of a single female, locking horns and pushing forcefully. The winning male will drive his opponent from the area and mate with the spectating female (2). Females will give birth to a single fawn after a gestation period of around 213 days (7). The young deer are weaned after six months, before reaching maturity at 8 to 12 months (1). 

Over the last 20 years or so, the increasingly rare hog deer is believed to have suffered a decline of as much as 50 percent. This decline has been highest in the eastern parts of its range, where it is suspected to have undergone at least a 90 percent decrease. The hog deer is now one of the most threatened large mammals in Indochina, and is believed to be extinct in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and most of Cambodia. Furthermore, it is believed extinct in China and most of Bangladesh. In India and Nepal, outside of protected areas, few viable populations remain, and severe hunting pressure exists (1).

This worrying decline has been caused by a combination of hunting, habitat loss and habitat degradation. In Indochina, rampant hunting for meat, antler trophies and traditional medicines caused an initial decline. The hog deer is reported to be easier to hunt than other deer species in the region, as it occupies open habitats, making it more visible to hunters. Hunting pressure was further compounded by the loss of its wetland habitat to agriculture and urban development (1). 

Restricted to fragments of suitable habitat, the species’ ability to move across the landscape is severely limited. This is particularly problematic for the hog deer as it occupies areas that are prone to severe flooding, and the species requires the ability to move among habitats during wet seasons (1). The hog deer’s habitat is also threatened by the development of hydroelectric power stations in South Asia (8) (9).   

A rare and vulnerable species, the hog deer is in drastic need of critical conservation measures. Recognising this, every country within the species’ range has afforded the hog deer full protection from hunting (1). The relict Indochinese population in Kratie, Cambodia, has received extra protection, and the WWF Greater Mekong Programme supports a number of rangers that patrol the area, deterring hunters. WWF has also begun community education and ecotourism programmes that aim to highlight the plight of this vulnerable population (5) (10). Furthermore, Global Wildlife Conservation is developing plans to protect the newly discovered population in Botum-Sakor National Park, southwest Cambodia, although the total population size is unknown (6). The hog deer is also found in a number of protected areas, including some of the most secure reserves in the world, such as the Corbett Tiger Reserve in India. It has also indirectly benefited from the conservation of the Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), with which it co-exists in wet grasslands. However, many reserves are not big enough to allow seasonal movements, and the level of legal enforcement received varies (1). 

For more information on the conservation of hog deer, see:

Authenticated (20/07/2010) by Wes Sechrest, Chief Scientist, Global Wildlife Conservation, Austin, Texas, USA.
www.globalwildlife.org

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Macdonald, D.W. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. CITES (February, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Nowak, R. M. (1999) Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  5. Maxwell, A., Chea, N., Duong, K., Timmins, R. and Duckworth, J. W. (2007) Hog Deer (Axis porcinus) confirmed in the wild in eastern Cambodia. Natural History Bulletin of the Siam Society, 54: 227–237.
  6. Global Wildlife Conservation (February, 2010)
    http://www.globalwildlife.org/
  7. Dhungel, S.K. and O’Gara, B.W. (1991) Ecology of the hog deer in Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Wildlife Monographs, 119: 3-40.
  8. Odden, M., Wegge, P. and Storaas, T. (2005) Hog deer Axis porcinus need threatened tallgrass floodplains: a study of habitat selection in lowland Nepal. Animal Conservation, 8: 99-104.
  9. Azam, M.M., Khan, S.A. and Qamar, S. (2002) Distribution and population of hog deer in district in Sanghar, Sindh. Records of Zoological Survey of Pakistan, 14: 5-10.
  10. WWF Greater Mekong Programme’s office in Cambodia (February, 2010)
    http://www.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/cambodia/