Hog Deer (Axis porcinus)
Hog deer are the smallest of the six species of deer in Australia and although they are a close relative of the chital, bear little resemblance to them. They are similar in size to a sheep.
A mature hog deer stag stands about 70cm at the shoulder and weighs approximately 50kg while hinds are much smaller, standing about 61cm and weighing in the vicinity of 30kg. They are very solidly built with a long body and relatively short legs and the line of the back slopes upward from the shoulders to a high rump. A hog deer normally carries its head low when searching for food and this attitude, combined with the quick rushing movement made by the deer when alarmed, is similar to that of a pig and probably the reason for its common name.
The hog deer’s coat is quite thick and generally a uniform dark-brown in winter except for the underparts of the body and legs which are lighter in colour. During late spring, the change to a summer coat of rich reddish brown commences although this may vary between individuals. Many hog deer show a dark dorsal stripe extending from the head down the back of the neck and along the spine. In summer, there is usually a uniform row of light-coloured spots along either side of the dorsal stripe from the shoulders to the rump. The tail is fairly short and brown but tipped with white. The underside of the tail is white and the deer can fan the white hairs out in a distinctive alarm display.
The antler of a mature hog deer stag is typically three tined-brow tine with solid main beam terminating in inner and outer top tines. However, antlers with more points are not uncommon. The distinctive features of typical hog deer antlers are the acute angle between the brow tine and main beam and the fact that the inner tops tend to be short and angle back from the main beam and across towards the opposite antler.
Hog deer are among the most primitive of all the deer species and are native to several south-east Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma. A sub- species, the endangered Axis porcinus annamiticus, extends from Thailand to Vietnam and China. After becoming extinct in Thailand, it has recently been re-introduced into two locations in the north of the country.
The Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, with the support of the Victorian government, introduced and established hog deer in Victoria during the 1860s. In October 1865, the steamer Pharos transported three stags and nine hinds to their release point at Opos- sum Creek in Corner Inlet on the eastern side of Wilson’s Promontory. Further releases followed near the Latrobe River at Sale, between Seymour and Yea and in the hills near Gembrook. The deer became firmly established in the coastal swamps and off- shore islands but declined elsewhere.
During the 1950s and 1960s the hog deer sank to a dangerously low population level because of widespread use of 1080 poison to control rabbits, and loss of habitat from scrub clearance and drainage of wetlands. The population is now responding to rehabilitation measures taken by the combined efforts of hunters concerned for the future of this attractive little deer and the wildlife department. On Sunday Island, The Para Park Co-operative Game Reserve Limited has demonstrated how hog deer will respond to good management practices by building the island’s deer population from a handful of animals to its present strong population.
Another group of hunting organisations, in co-operation with the Victorian Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, has rehabilitated deer numbers in the Blond Bay State Game Reserve to such an extent that regulated, balloted hunting is now used as a means to harvest the natural increase. A further study into management practices may result in the deer being actively managed wherever suitable habitat occurs on private land, and this should guarantee their existence into the foreseeable future.