Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi)

Also known as: Philippine spotted deer
Synonyms: Cervus alfredi
GenusRusa (1)
SizeHead-body length: 120 - 130 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 60 - 80 cm (2)
Tail length: 8 - 13 cm (2)
Weight40 - 60 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

This small, short-legged deer is the largest endemic species of the west Visayan islands of the Philippines (2), and is easily distinguished from other Philippine deer by the distinctive pattern of buff-coloured spots scattered across its dark brown back and sides (2) (3). The underparts are a creamy colour with white fur on the chin and lower lip, contrasting sharply with the otherwise deep brown face and neck (3). The head is a slightly lighter shade of brown than the body, and the eyes are surrounded by a ring of paler fur (2). As is typical of most cervids, only males bear antlers, which are bumpy and relatively short and stout at around 20 centimetres in length (2). Males can also be distinguished from females by their much larger overall size (3).

Endemic to the Visayan islands of the central Philippines, formerly reported on Cebu, Guimaras, Leyte, Masbate, Negros, Panay, and Samar, but now thought to remain only on the islands of Panay and Negros (1) (4).

The Visayan spotted deer inhabits primary rainforest and secondary growth, from sea level up to at least 1,500 metres above sea level (5) (6).

The Visayan spotted deer is thought to be mainly nocturnal, emerging at dusk to begin feeding on a variety of different types of grasses, leaves and buds within the forest (2). These deer are social animals, usually found in small groups of three to five (7), but their mating system is poorly understood (3). In other members of the genus, mating is usually polygynous, with males competing for access to females through sparring and vocalisations (3). The breeding season of Visayan spotted deer is reported from November to December, although possibly beginning earlier, during which males produce a distinctive roar-like call (4). Young are born in May and June, after a gestation period of around 240 days (3). Offspring are weaned at six months and reach maturity from 12 months of age, at which point males begin to grow antlers (2).

The Visayan spotted deer is one of the rarest and most narrowly distributed mammals in the world, with only a few hundred wild animals thought to remain (3). Indeed, a survey in 1991 found that the species had already become extinct in over 95 percent of its former range, largely as a result of intensive hunting and extensive deforestation (4), with land having been cleared for agriculture and logging operations at a frightening pace (5). Hunting also poses a significant threat to this Endangered deer (5).

The Visayan spotted deer is afforded some degree of protection through its occurrence in Mt. Camlaon National Park, North Negros Forest Reserve, Mount Talinis/Lake Balinsasayao Reserve and the proposed West Panay Mountains National Park (5). Although Visayan spotted deer are legally protected, their distribution in remote, dense, inland forest makes the practicalities of guard patrolling very difficult, and hunting therefore continues (3). In 1990, the Philippine Spotted Deer Conservation Program was set up to initiate a captive breeding programme and a number of other conservation measures, including a public education campaign and an annual series of conservation workshops (4) (5). Visayan spotted deer are currently held in captivity in Mari-it Conservation Centre in Panay, two breeding centres in Negros, and a dozen zoos in Europe (7).

Despite the benefits of having a captive population to buffer against total extinction, the fate of the Visayan spotted deer in the wild remains highly uncertain, and current agricultural practices and hunting pressure must change if it has any chance of survival in its natural environment (3). Unfortunately, the poor state of the Philippine economy and political unrest make this an extremely difficult task, and captive-bred individuals will not be released into the wild until they have a fair chance of survival (3). The conservation of this rare and beautiful deer is therefore highly complex, and requires considerable efforts by the Philippine government to stabilise the economic environment before it has any real hope of recovery.

For more information on the Visayan spotted deer see:

Authenticated (20/10/08) by Dr Jens-Ove Heckel, Director, Zoo Landau in der Pfalz.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  2. World Deer (February, 2006)
  3. Animal Diversity Web (February, 2006)
  4. Oliver, W.L.R., Cox, C.R. and Dolar, L.L. (1991) The Philippine spotted deer conservation project. Oryx, 25(4): 199 - 205.
  5. Wemmer, C. (1998) Deer: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Deer Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  6. Heaney, L.R., Balete, D.S., Dolar, M.L., Alcala, A.C., Dans, A.T.C., Gonzales, P.C., Ingle, N.R., Lepiten, M.V., Oliver, W.L.R., Ong, P.S., Rickart, E.A., Tabaranza Jr, B.R. and Utzurrum, R.C.B. (1998) A synopsis of the mammalian fauna of the Philippine Islands. Fieldiana Zoology new series, 88: 1 - 61.
  7. Heckel, J.O. (2008) Pers. comm.