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Rusa deer

Native to South-East Asia, rusa are medium-sized deer with a distinctive light chest and throat. Rusa deer are native to a number of islands in the Indonesian archipelago, and have also been introduced to south-east Kalimantan, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand.

Two subspecies are found in Australia: Javan rusa (Cervus timorensis russa), established in Royal National Park outside Sydney, and Moluccan rusa (C. timorensis moluccensis), introduced to the islands of the Torres Strait in 1912.

Populations of wild rusa deer have also been found in coastal areas between Townsville and Rockhampton, and in southern Queensland. A long-established, but little-known, population is located near Stanthorpe.

Rusa deer contained within a deer-proof fence (e.g. on farms or in game parks) are not restricted invasive pests. Any rusa deer not within a deer-proof fence is considered feral or wild and subject to control. Farmed deer that escape captivity quickly revert to a wild state.

Rusa deer can damage native and cultivated vegetation and pose a traffic hazard.

Rusa deer is a restricted invasive animal under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

Scientific name

Rusa timorensis, Cervus timorensis

Similar species

  • Sambar deer

Description

  • Medium-sized deer, with Javan rusa stags standing up to 110cm at shoulder and weighing about 120kg, hinds standing up to 95cm at shoulder and weighing up to 80kg, Moluccan rusa slightly smaller.
  • Coat varies from greyish to yellowish or reddish-brown, with darker brown on hindquarters and thighs.
  • Body hair is coarse, sparser than other deer.
  • Chest and throat are light, chest has line of dark hair visible between forelegs.
  • New calves have rich red coat.
  • Stags develop mane during winter.
  • Antlers typically 3-tined, with beams forming characteristic lyre shape.

Habitat

  • Tropical or subtropical species.
  • Prefers grassy plains bordered by dense brush or woodlands to retire to during daylight hours.
  • Prefers to graze on grass, but will also browse on other vegetation depending on season and availability of food.

Distribution

  • Found around Townsville and Rockhampton, and in southern Queensland, including population near Stanthorpe.
  • Also introduced to traditional chital deer range around Charters Towers.
  • Anecdotal reports of 600 rusa being released into flood plain environment in Gulf of Carpentaria.

Life cycle

  • Forms herds.
  • Have no definite breeding season but tend to breed June-October; individual hinds may cycle earlier or later.
  • Adult hinds generally give birth to single calf after gestation of about 252 days.
  • Hinds can produce up to 3 calves in 2 years.
  • Fight less during rut than other deer species; instead, rusa stags 'plough' vegetation and amass large bundles of greenery on antlers to establish dominance over other males.

Impacts

Environmental

  • Can damage natural environment by eating native vegetation, damaging trees, spreading weed seeds and fouling water.

Economic

  • Can damage forestry seedlings, agricultural and horticultural crops, commercial flower crops, orchards, irrigation systems, and fences.
  • Sometimes selectively consumes new growth and ringbarks orchard trees, leading to reduced orchard viability.
  • In dry seasons, competes with cattle for pasture and supplementary feed.

Social

  • Can be traffic hazard on suburban roads and highways.

Control

  • Preventing more deer from entering the wild is a key control strategy.
  • Deer control is often best done as a joint exercise, involving all land managers. Local councils and Landcare groups can help coordinate efforts.

Shooting

  • Shooting must be carried out by trained personnel with appropriate firearms licences. Shooters must possess necessary skill and judgement to kill deer with single shot. Lactating females should not be shot but, if they are inadvertently shot, young should be found and euthanased.
Ground shooting
  • Although time-consuming and labour-intensive, ground shooting is most effective and humane technique available to reduce deer populations. Usually done at night from vehicle with spotlights.
Helicopter shooting
  • Helicopter shooting is effective in inaccessible areas such as broadacre crops, swamps and marshes. However, most new deer populations in Queensland are at comparatively low densities and in areas of thick cover where helicopter shooting is unlikely to be economical. Helicopter shooting also risks disturbing and dispersing deer population.

Trapping

  • Trapping may be an option for deer control in some circumstances. The simplest form of trapping deer involves a self-mustering trap.
  • Traps must be monitored closely and deer should be promptly tranquilised or euthanased after trapping. Deer mortalities of 3-7% post-trapping have been recorded in studies in the United States. Animal welfare issues must be considered when using this method.

Exclusion Fencing

  • Exclusion fencing, while expensive can be an effective method of protecting intensive agriculture from feral deer impacts.

Legal requirements

  • Rusa deer is a restricted invasive animal under the Biosecurity Act 2014.
  • It must not be moved, fed, given away, sold, or released into the environment without a permit.
  • The Act requires everyone to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks associated with invasive plants and animals under their control. This is called a general biosecurity obligation (GBO).
  • At a local level, each local government must have a biosecurity plan that covers invasive plants and animals in its area. This plan may include actions to be taken on certain species. Some of these actions may be required under local laws. Contact your local government for more information.

Further information