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Last updated date: 12th Jul 2024
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What is Chital?

The chital deer, also known as the spotted deer, chital deer, or axis deer, is a deer species native to the Indian subcontinent. Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben, a German naturalist, was the first to describe it in 1777. Chital is a medium-sized deer with males reaching about 90 cm (35 in) at the shoulder and females 70 cm (28 in). 

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Females weigh 25–45 kg (55–99 lb), whereas males weigh 30–75 kg (66–165 lb). It is sexually dimorphic, with males being larger than females and only males having antlers. The upper sections are golden to rufous in colour, with white dots all around. White is found on the abdomen, rump, throat, insides of legs, ears, and tail. The three-pronged antlers are about one metre (3.3 feet) long.

The name "chital" is derived from cital, which is derived from the Sanskrit word citrala, which means "variegated" or "spotted." The cheetah's name has a similar origin. "Chital" can also be spelled "cheetal" or "cheetul." The chital is also known as the Indian spotted deer (or simply the spotted deer) or the axis deer.

Taxonomy and Phylogeny of Chital Animal

Cervus axis was the name given to the chital by German scientist Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben in 1777. The chital was given its own subgenus, Axis, by English naturalist Charles Hamilton Smith in 1827, within the genus Cervus. Taxonomists like Colin P. Groves and Peter Grubb later raised Axis to generic rank. Hyelaphus was once thought to be a subgenus of Axis and included the Bawean deer (H. kuhli), the Calamian deer (H. calamianensis), and the hog deer (H. porcinus). 

However, morphological distinctions between Axis and Hyelaphus were discovered in a 2004 study. Hyelaphus is more closely related to the genus Rusa than Axis, according to phylogenetic research published later that year. In the phylogenetic tree, Axis was shown to be paraphyletic and distant from Hyelaphus; the chital was discovered to be in a clade with Rucervus duvaucelii (barasingha) and R. schomburgki (Schomburgk's deer). In the Early Pliocene, the chital was thought to have split from the Rucervus lineage (five million years ago). The cladogram below is based on phylogenetic research published in 2004.

From Iran in the west to Indochina in the east, fossils of extinct Axis species dating from the early to middle Pliocene have been discovered.

Description of Chital Animal

The chital is a deer of average size. At the shoulder, males reach approximately 90 cm (35 in) and females 70 cm (28 in); head-and-body length is around 1.7 m. (5.6 ft). Females weigh 25–45 kg (55–99 lb), while juvenile males weigh 30–75 kg (66–165 lb). Males of reproductive age can weigh between 98 and 110 kg (216 to 243 lb). The tail is 20 cm (7.9 in) long and has a dark stripe that runs the length of it. The species is sexually dimorphic, with males being larger than females and only males having antlers.

The dorsal (top) parts are golden to rufous, with white patches all over them. White is found on the abdomen, rump, throat, insides of legs, ears, and tail. A prominent black stripe goes down the spine (backbone). The chital's preorbital glands (near the eyes) are well-developed and have stiff hairs. In its hind legs, it also has well-developed metatarsal glands and pedal glands. Males have larger preorbital glands than females, which are commonly opened in reaction to particular stimuli.

There are three lines on each antler. The initial division of the antler, the brow tine, is roughly perpendicular to the beam (the central stalk of the antler). The three-pronged antlers are about one metre (3.3 feet) long. Antlers, like those of most other cervids, are shed every year. Following mineralisation and obstruction of blood arteries in the tissue, the antlers begin as soft tissues (velvet antlers) and harden into bony structures (hard antlers) as they advance from the tip to the base. 

The mineral makeup of captive barasingha, chital, and hog deer antlers was studied, and it was discovered that the deer's antlers are quite similar. The mineral content of the antlers of the chital was found to be 6.1 milligrammes (0.00022 oz) copper, 8.04 milligrammes (0.000284 oz) cobalt, and 32.14 milligrammes (0.001134 oz) zinc (per kilogramme).

The forelegs' hooves are longer than the rear legs', measuring between 4.1 and 6.1 cm (1.6 and 2.4 in) in length. The toes come to a point at the end. The dental formula is the same as the elk's: The milk canine, which is about one centimetre (0.39 inch) long, falls out before one year of age and is not replaced by a permanent tooth-like in other cervids.

The chital has a more cursorial build than the hog deer. The antlers and brow tines of a whitetail deer are longer than those of a hog deer. In the chital, the pedicles (bony cores from which antlers grow) are shorter, and the auditory bullae are smaller. The chital can be mistaken for a fallow deer. Fallow deer normally have white splotches, whereas chital deer have many white dots. 

Chital antlers feature three distinct points on each side, whereas fallows have palmate antlers. The chital's throat has a noticeable white patch, whereas the fallow deer's throat is totally white. The dark brown stripe running down the back of the chital is the most distinguishing feature. The hairs are soft and silky.

Distribution and Habitat of Chital Animal

The chital is found in India between 8 and 30 degrees north latitude, as well as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Eastern Rajasthan and Gujarat are the western limits of their distribution. The northern border runs along the Bhabar-terai belt of the Himalayan foothills, from Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal through Nepal, northern West Bengal, and Sikkim, and then to western Assam and Bhutan's forested valleys below 1,100 metres altitude.

The Sundarbans in West Bengal (India) and Bangladesh form the eastern boundary of its range, which runs through western Assam. The southernmost point is Sri Lanka. Chital can be found irregularly throughout the Indian peninsula's wooded zones. It is now only found in the Sundarbans and a few eco-parks surrounding the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, having become extinct in the country's centre and northeast regions.


Dr. John Harris, a surgeon to the New South Wales Corps, was the first to introduce the chital deer to Australia in the early 1800s, and by 1813, he had roughly 400 of these animals on his farm. The chital's primary range is now confined to a few cattle stations in North Queensland near Charters Towers and several feral herds on the NSW north coast, and the chital's primary range is now confined to a few cattle stations in North Queensland near Charters Towers and several feral herds on the NSW north coast. While some of the stock is believed to have originated in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Indian race is also likely to be present.

The United States

As a gift from Hong Kong to King Kamehameha V, axis deer were introduced to the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the 1860s. Soon after, the deer were transported to Lanai, another Hawaiian island, and are now common on both islands. In the 1950s, deer were imported to Maui Island to boost hunting chances. Because there are no natural predators on the Hawaiian islands, the deer population is rising at a rate of 20 to 30 percent per year, wreaking havoc on agriculture and natural areas.

It was also planned to release them on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, but this was scrapped due to concerns from scientists about the deer's impact on other islands' landscapes. Deer were seen on the island of Hawaii in 2012, and wildlife officials suspect the deer were brought in by helicopter and transferred onto the island by boat. A helicopter pilot pleaded guilty in August 2012 to transferring four axis deer from Maui to Hawaii. "The purposeful possession, inter-island transit, or release of wild or feral deer" is now illegal in Hawaii.

Axis deer were first imported to Texas in 1932. Self-sustaining herds were discovered in 27 counties in Central and South Texas in 1988. The Edwards Plateau, where the topography is comparable to that of India, is home to the most deer.


In 1911, Chitals of unknown genetic origin were introduced to Brijuni Island, where they are still seen today. They're also present on Rab Island, and the two islands' combined population is around 200 people. Hunters' attempts to bring the species to Croatia's mainland were unsuccessful.

Behaviour and Ecology

Chitals are active at all times of the day. In the summer, time is spent resting under shade and avoiding the sun's glare if the temperature rises above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius); activity peaks as twilight approaches. Foraging begins before sunrise as the days grow colder and peaks by early morning. During the middle of the day, when the animals are resting or loitering around, activity slows down. By late afternoon, foraging has resumed and will continue till midnight. They sleep in the forest, which is cooler than the glades, a few hours before daylight. When on a journey in search of food and water, these deer usually travel in a single file on specialised paths with a spacing of two to three times their width between them. According to research conducted in the Gir National Park (Gujarat, India), chital migrates the most in the summer of all seasons.

The chital stands immobile and listens intently while warily scanning its surroundings, facing any potential danger. Individuals in the area may also take this stance. Chital flees in groups to avoid predators (unlike hog deer, which disperse when alarmed); dashes are typically followed by sheltering in dense vegetation. The tail of the running chital is raised, revealing the white underbelly. The chital can leap and clear fences up to 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) but prefers to dive beneath them. It keeps within 300 metres (980 feet) of the ground.

The chital is a sociable species that form matriarchal herds consisting of an adult female and her previous and current year's progeny, which may be connected with individuals of any age and sex, male herds, and herds of juveniles and mothers. Small herds are typical, although large herds of up to 100 individuals have been seen. Except for the juvenile-mother herd, groups are flexible and disintegrate regularly. In Texas, a herd can contain up to 15 individuals; in India, herds can have anywhere from five to forty members. 

Seasonal change in the sex ratio of herds was seen in the Nallamala Hills (Andhra Pradesh, India) and the Western Ghats (western coast of India), which was attributed to females' desire to sequester themselves ahead of the parturition. Similarly, during the mating season, rutting males abandon their herds, changing the composition of the herd. During the monsoon, large herds were frequently seen foraging in the meadows. Wolves, Bengal tigers, Asiatic lions, leopards, Indian rock pythons, dholes, Indian pariah dogs, and mugger crocodiles are among the chital's predators. Juveniles are preyed upon by red foxes and golden jackals. Males, as opposed to females and juveniles, are less vulnerable.

The chital, which is related to the North American elk, is a noisy animal that makes bellows and alarm barks. Its sounds, on the other hand, are not as powerful as those of elk or red deer, consisting mostly of coarse bellows or loud growls. Rutting and bellowing go hand in hand. Dominant males guarding girls in oestrus yell at less powerful males with high-pitched growls. Males groan when they are displaying aggressive behaviour or when they are resting. Chital, mostly females and juveniles, bark incessantly when they are scared or come upon a predator. Fawns searching for their mother frequently squeal. Several species, including the common myna and langurs, have alarm sounds that the chital may respond to.

Males have a lot of marking behaviour. Preorbital glands in males are well-developed (near the eyes). To reach towering trees, they stand on their hind legs and rub their fragrance into the exposed preorbital glands. When foraging, this stance is also adopted. Urine marking is also seen; the smell of urine is usually greater than the scent left behind. Male sparring begins with the larger male displaying his dominance before the other; this display consists of hissing away from the other male with the tail facing him, the nose pointing to the ground, the ears down, the antlers upright, and the upper lip raised; this display consists of hissing heading away from the other male with the tail facing him, the nose pointing to the ground, the ears down, the antlers upright, and the upper lip raised. 

During the show, the fur frequently bristles. Slowly, the male approaches the female. Males with velvet antlers may bend over rather than stand tall like those with firm antlers. The rivals then lock horns and push against each other, with the smaller male occasionally generating a sound that is louder than that of a sambar deer, but not as loud as that of a barasingha. The struggle ends when the guys take a step back or simply leave and go scavenging. Fights aren't usually serious affairs.

Individuals may bite one another on occasion. The chital attracts a lot of common mynas. Herds of chital and troops of northern plains grey langurs, a common South Asian monkey, have been seen to have an unusual interaction. Chital benefits from the langurs' eyesight and ability to keep a lookout from trees, and langurs benefit from the chital's keen sense of smell, both of which assist in keeping an eye on potential threats. Fruits dropped by langurs from trees like Terminalia bellirica and Phyllanthus Emblica help the chital as well. In the Western Ghats, the chital has been seen foraging with sambar deer.


The chitals are grazers and browsers who feed mostly on grasses all year. Only in the winter, from October to January, when the tall or dried-up grasses are no longer appetising, does browse become a significant part of the diet. Herbs, shrubs, foliage, fruits, and forbs are commonly favoured while browsing; Moghania species are generally preferred while browsing. 

Ficus species fruits, Cordia myxa fruits, and Syzygium cumini fruits are consumed by chital in the Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh, India) from January to May, Cordia myxa fruits from May to June, and Syzygium cumini fruits from June to July. Individuals tend to group together and forage while moving slowly. When grazing together, the Chitals are usually quite quiet. To reach higher trees, males frequently stand on their hind legs. Nearly twice a day, water holes are visited with extreme caution. Mineral licks rich in calcium and phosphorus pentoxide were scraped by the incisors in Kanha National Park. Chital in the Sunderbans may be omnivores, as red crab bones have been discovered in their rumen.


Breeding happens all year, with different peaks depending on where you are. During the growth of the antlers, testosterone levels drop, although sperm is generated all year. Females go through three-week estrous cycles on a regular basis. After the birth, the female can conceive again in two to four months. Males with firm antlers, regardless of size, are dominant over those with velvet antlers or those without antlers. The foundation of courtship is the nurturing of ties. During the mating season, a rutting male fasts and follows and guards a female in oestrus. Before copulation, the couple engages in multiple rounds of chasing and mutual licking.

The mother-fawn link isn't particularly strong because the two are frequently separated, however they can quickly reunite because the herds are cohesive. If the fawn dies, the mother can mate again and have two litters that year. Males continue to grow for another seven to eight years. In captivity, the average lifespan is about 22 years. In the wild, however, the lifespan is only five to 10 years.

In dense deciduous or semi-evergreen forests and open grasslands, the chital can be seen in considerable numbers. Chital can be found in large numbers in India's woods, where they eat on long grass and plants. Chital has also been spotted in Bhutan's Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, which has the country's only remaining wild sal (Shorea robusta) woodland. They don't live at high altitudes, where they're frequently replaced by sambar deer and other species. For shade, they prefer dense forest cover and avoid direct sunshine.

Conservation Status

The IUCN considers the chital to be of least concern since it "occurs over a fairly wide area and has several substantial populations." There are currently no dangers to chitals across their entire range, and they live in a number of protected places. Due to hunting and competition with domestic animals, population levels in many areas are below ecological carrying capacity. Hunting for deer meat has resulted in significant population decreases and local extinctions. The axis deer is protected in India by Schedule III of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972), as well as Bangladesh's Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974. Its legal protection as a species and a network of operating protected areas are two of the main reasons for its good conservation status.

In the Andaman Islands, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Alabama, Point Reyes National Seashore in California, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Texas in the United States, and the Veliki Brijun Island in the Brijuni Archipelago of the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia, the chital has been introduced.

Did You Know?

  • After birth, the infant is hidden for a week, a much shorter period than most other deer. 

  • Chital animal loves fresh shoots, and if there aren't any then they feed on tall and coarse grasses.

FAQs on Chital

Question1: What is the Maximum Walking Speed of Chital Deer? Where Do They Occur Naturally?

Answer: They had a top speed of 65 km/hr (40 mph). Chital is native to India and Sri Lanka, but have recently been brought to Australia and the United States.

Question2: What Kind of Consumer Chital are?

Answer: Chital deer are herbivores who eat a wide range of grasses, fruits, and leaves. They are social and can form large groups of up to 100 people.