Rusa Deer (Rusa timorensis)
Rusa is the Malay word for deer and they are medium sized, rough-coated deer which are biologically allied to the sambar. However, the two species are quite different in size, appearance and behaviour. There are two subspecies established in the wild in Australia and the Javan rusa (Rusa timorensis russa) is the larger. Stags stand up to 110cm at the shoulder and may weigh around 136kg while hinds are considerably smaller at 95cm and 60kg.
The coat hair is coarse and sparse and generally a greyish brown in colour although the shade varies between the age groups and sexes and also season-ally. The under- parts including the chest and throat are a light grey, almost white in some cases, which is a striking contrast to the main body colour, and there is a line of dark hair which runs down the chest between the forelegs.
A rusa stag’s antlers are quite large, in comparison with its body size, and very distinctive with a typical lyre shape. There is a brow tine, which is often curved, and a terminal fork at the end of the main beam. The thicker part of the main beam continues on into the back tine and this is normally considerably larger than the front tine. In good conditions, a mature rusa stag may grow antlers up to and sometimes exceeding 76cm in length. Most stags cast their antlers in January or February.
In the nineteenth century many rusa were liberated in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia but now these have all disappeared, except for those in New South Wales.
For many years, visitors to the Royal National Park were able to observe the deer living naturally in their rugged environment and some deer were attracted to the most often visited areas by food scraps. These soon became easily approachable and the rusa of the Royal National Park became the most photographed wild deer in Australia.
Another successful liberation, this time of the Moluccan rusa (Rusa timorensis moluc- censis), was carried out in 1910 on Friday Island at the tip of Cape York Peninsula. These deer are now more widely distributed and can be found on Prince of Wales and Possession Islands, Groote Eylandt, and have also been reported on the Queensland mainland.
Rusa are now abundant in the Illawarra area of New South Wales and in the coastal regions around Coffs Harbour.