Swamp Deer A Conservation Saga at Kanha National Park in India

by pateluday

Swamp Deer is a type of red deer that specializes in survival on marshy grasslands but the hard-ground swamp deer at Kanha differs. Read on...

India is home to diverse wildlife and flora not forgetting the magical avifauna that invites enthusiasts from all over the World. Swamp deer is found in North, East, and Central India albeit in reduced numbers and barely surviving. They have lost large grassland ecosystems in which they survived and equally large numbers have been shot down by the most harmful creature on Earth - Man. This is a graminivore species and survives entirely on certain species of grass besides aquatic plants found in undisturbed lakes.

Hard Ground Barasingha
Rucervus duvaucelii branderi
Vulnerable (IUCN 3.1)

Barasingha is the name in the Hindi Language

The large deer is a conservation success story for Kanha National Park whence the population rose from 66 in 1960 to the present-day 600 plus as of 2021. After the success of recent translocation, there is hope that this majestic red deer will survive in many suitable habitats in India.

Hard Ground Swamp Deer in Water

Aquatic Feeding in Lake
Swamp Deer in Lake
Swamp Deer in Lake
Uday Patel

Magnificent Swamp Deer

Red Deer

Kanha Water BodyThe charismatic deer once survived in large numbers as far as Upper Sind now its range is critically restricted due to the decimation of most of its grassland habitats.

Swamp deer are found in Lakhimpur Kheri Tiger Reserve and Jhilmil Jheel Conservation reserve in the North, at Kaziranga and Manas in Assam State, and in Central India at Kanha National Park. The scientific classification stands as  Recervus duavcelli in North India and Nepal. It is Recervus duavcelli ranjitsinghji in Assam and Recervus duavcelli branderi in Kanha in Central India.

The animal in the picture here is the Brander Barasingha at Kanha Tiger Reserve. Barasingha is a Hindi name that means twelve tines hence deer with twelve tines or branches of antlers. In English, it is called swamp deer or hard-ground swamp deer in this case. 

The difference in the case of this animal from its cousins is that it has evolved to survive on the hard ground through thousands of years of evolution. The difference has arisen in the hoof which is less splayed whence compared to other swamp deer in India. This constriction in the hooves enables the animal to trudge on hard ground with ease.

Since the marshy grasslands are no more present, evolution was necessary in order to survive. Being a shy animal, it does not venture out of the core zone or critical tiger habitat. Hence its survival is totally dependent upon inviolate protected areas in India and Nepal.

The animal is one of the most charismatic in the whole of Kanha with majestic multi-tined antlers a graceful body and enigmatic continence. The male weighs around one hundred eighty kilograms and stands at four feet while the female is smaller with no antlers it is equally lithe and graceful.

The robust Rufus fur changes as per the season the winter coat being the most attractive to look at and photograph. The underbelly and inside of the legs are white in stark contrast to the upper body. 

Territorial Fight Video

Hard Ground Barasingha

Swamp Deer

Habit & Social Behaviour

Swamp DeerThis is the timidest animal I have seen in the grasslands. Yes, it is a graminivore and survives on grass and aquatic vegetation. Various species of grass found in Kanha constitute its diet which is also supplemented by seasonal aquatic vegetation found in numerous medium-sized water bodies in the reserve.

The deer lives in the herd but there is a school formation in the case of young males till they create their own space or territory. 

At Kanha, the breeding peaks during the period December to February, and after eight months a single fawn is given birth. During the breeding season, the braying is heard for miles and is the most enticing sound to be heard.

Frequent clashes between rival stags could be witnessed during the rut. These are not violent but the tussle usually leads to a decision. The superior male then commands a herd of twenty animals or more and mates with the females in estrus. This is a spectacle worth witnessing.

Albeit predation by the tiger is frequent but the herd is vigilant all the time and the alarm call is unique. The loud braying and constant pounding of hoofs on one after another ground is an amazing sight. 

The adults shed their antlers once a year after breeding is over. The new antlers grow after this covered in pink velvet and grow full length by the time of mating.  

Stag Swamp Deer

Image at Kanha
Deer Stag
Deer Stag
Uday Patel

Conservation of Barasingha

Conservation History

The saga of the conservation of this magnificent deer is a remarkable success story. In the sixties, only a few heads numbering around sixty-six were surviving at Kanha National Park. Extensive research was conducted by Dr. George Schaller from the USA in association with the management. A conclusion was reached that saved these animals from certain extinction. 

While the population in Central India was depleted due to the takeover of wetland and grassland ecosystems by human settlers and many were the victim of hunting only this small herd remained.

At Kanha, the major reason for reducing population was the predation of fawns by tigers and other animals. This called for preventive measures and a large pen was built and the remaining herd was enclosed in it. The pen was cleansed of all predators and was made completely secure.   

The deer species bounced back remarkably and today they number more than five hundred heads and are breeding. A small herd has been trans-located to Satpura Tiger Reserve and Van Vihar Bhopal both in Central India.

The animal is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. This act bans all hunting of scheduled animals in India.

Red Deer in Grass

Stag in Grass
Stag in Grass
Uday Patel

Home of The Swamp Deer

Kanha National Park

Kanha ForestsThe flourishing population of hard-ground barasingha is breeding well and their numbers are constantly rising. They are found in extensive grassland habitats and near water bodies of core in the tiger reserve. Since robust grasslands do not exist in the buffer or outer area of the park and are extremely shy, they limit themselves to the core or the critical tiger habitat.

You can see this herbivore easily at Kanha Tiger Reserve in any season but in the summer they are found in water bodies with grasslands in the core areas of the park.

The best time to visit Kanha National Park is from December to February. This is the breeding period and hence fun to watch these dainty animals. Albeit they can be seen year-round. 


For excursions in the park, a Permit is required. For a game drive book safari at Kanha before you go. The safari can be booked online at the MPOnline website. You can also ask the hotel you will be staying at to book a permit. Even your tour operator will help you with bookings at Kanha National Park in Central India.

Jabalpur Airport in MP and Raipur Airport in Chhattisgarh is about four hour drive from Kanha. Nagpur Airport in Maharashtra is about a five-hour drive. All the destinations are connected to Mumbai and New Delhi Capital City. 


Updated: 02/21/2023, pateluday
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pateluday on 07/13/2022

The tribal and other local people are conversant in Hindi and few of them now know useful English. I will have to find out when the Arc at Kanha was built!

DerdriuMarriner on 07/13/2022

Thank you!

The search term Kanha National Park swamp deer antler ark brought up the YouTube Majestic Arc Gate Made by Deer Antlers in Kanha National Park, with WalkThroughIndia Traveller April 17, 2021.

The sound does not come clearly through the computer that I'm using so I don't know the language that is being spoken. Beneath the ark so impressive in condition and shape is a beautiful, clean plaque with an extensive write-up.

When was the ark built?

What would be the language of the people who live in the Maikal range of Satpuras that the Kanha National Park site identifies as where it nestles into Madhya Pradesh? Which languages -- Hindi? English? -- would park personnel be expected to know in interacting with guests?

pateluday on 07/12/2022

They are left to decompose naturally. However, with proper permissions and objectives, park personnel can collect a few of them. Under any circumstances, the discarded antlers cannot be used commercially or as a collector's item, this applies to all park personnel.

At Kanha National Park there is an ark made of swamp deer antlers collected from the park.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/11/2022

Your third subheading, Swamp Deer Habit & Social Behaviour, describes male swamp deer as shedding "their antlers once a year after breeding is over. The new antlers grow after this covered in pink velvet and grow full length by the time of mating."

Do park personnel collect the shed antlers or leave them to decompose naturally where they fall?

pateluday on 11/13/2020

That is fur loosening post winters. Thanks!

DerdriuMarriner on 11/12/2020

pateluday, Thank you for the pictures and the practicalities.
What are the marks that cluster toward the rump on the deer images below the headings red deer in grass and stag swamp deer?

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