Cervus unicolor unicolor

Common Name(s)

Sambar deer




Sambar deer occur in New Zealand on farmland in summer, returning to pine plantations in winter, but they generally inhabit a wide range of habitats where they can find sufficient amount of food and cover. They form complex trail systems between their cover and open feeding sites. Fenced areas are no obstacle for Sambar deer as they easily can perform a standing jump of 1.5m height and more. They are herbivorous browser and grazer, mainly feeding on various exotic grasses, shoots of briar and blackberry and young pine tips and pine needles or bark (good rumination).


Sambar deer have a uniform brown coat (darken in older animals) with a long bushy tail. Their antler has tree tines and the pedicles are short and solid.

Similar Species

Wapiti (Cervus elaphus nelsoni), Red deer (Cervus elaphus scoticus), Sika deer (Cervus nippon), Rusa deer (Cervus timorensis), Axis deer (Axis axis), Fallow deer (Dama dama dama), White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus borealis) and hybrids between some of these species.

Threat To Plants

Browsing and grazing of palatable species (they are also inclined to bark-chew), which my alter species regeneration and vegetation composition. When occurring in large numbers they will destroy the understorey of native forest by overbrowsing, grazing, bark stripping and trampling, which consecutively will also increases soil erosion and therefore also the fertility of the site.


Two established populations: Manawatu (coastal belt from Levin to Harakeke & inland aling valley of Turakine and Whangaehu rivers); Bay of Plenty (around Waiotapu area to Whakatane).


Weight: 227-245kg; acromial height: 1,37m

Year Introduced

1875 (Manawatu)

Reason For Introduction

Food and game

Colonisation History

First introduced to New Zealand at Rangitikei (Manawatu) by Falconer Larkworthy in 1875 (one pair). They rapidly increased in number but illegal hunting reduced the herd to about 30 individuals. As a result Sambar deer were give protection under the Animals Protection Act 1880. They recovered to circa 100 animals in 1900. Despite having all protection removed in 1930 they continued to increase population numbers (approximately 500 individuals in 1947). Several translocations from the Manawatu herd were undertaken between 1914-1921 (e.g. Whakatane, Waimana valley, Mount Edgecumbe, near Lake Rerewhakaaitu).