(Group of male Rusa deer on the Bensbach Plains, Western Province, south-west PNG)
Other common names: Javan Rusa deer, Moluccan Rusa deer, Timor Rusa deer, Timor deer, Sunda Sambar
Identification and characteristics: The Timor Rusa (C. t. timorensis) are the largest race of Rusa deer with the longest antlers. Males have a well-developed mane on neck and throat. The tail has a thick tuft. Summer coat is a dark, grizzled brown tinged with red. Throat, breast and underparts vary from dirty white to brownish gray, and there is a dark streak on the chest. Inner sides of buttocks and lower legs are dirty white. Chin, lips and inside of ears are whitish. Tail is yellow-brown on top and dirty white beneath, with a blackish tip. In winter, the coat turns grayish-brown with the lighter areas becoming a dirty yellowish-white, and often there is a brown band around the muzzle; (male) Shoulder height 40-47 inches (102-120 cm). Weight (14-136 kg. Females are much smaller. Smaller than the Timor Rusa, with a low, stout build and a relatively large, thick head. There is no tail tuft, and males lack a neck mane. The antlers are shorter, usually measuring less than 30 inches (76 cm), but often carry longer tines. The Moluccan Rusa (C. m. moluccensis) is smaller than the Timor Rusa, with a low, stout build and a relatively large, thick head. There is no tail tuft, and males lack a neck mane. The antlers are shorter, usually measuring less than 30 inches (76 cm), but often carry longer tines; (male) Shoulder height 38-40 inches (97-102 cm). Weight 64-91 kg. Females are considerably smaller.
Introduction and distribution: Introduced species in the Papuan region The rusa deer are an introduced species to the Lesser Sundas and the Moluccas, it is a fact that is well supported and provable by both standard zoogeographical knowledge and actual sub-fossil deposit sites on the islands. They are originally native to Java and Bali of the Sunda shelf, on the western side of Wallace's Line (Corbet & Hill 1992; Heinsohn 2003; Grubb 2005). The reason the introduced insular populations are different is simply through the (probably) small founding stock and accompanying genetic loss/drift, and the very well understood phenomenon of insular dwarfism. Research done into the sub-fossil deposits of Flores which shows quite conclusively that deer were introduced there in fairly recent (possibly European historical) times (Bergh et. al. 2009). For Timor (where the species was originally described from, hence the specific name timorensis) and Sulawesi, deer remains only appear in the record around 4500 years ago, which is clearly a factor of human agency (Simons & Bulbeck, 2004). Between 1822 and 1949 at least 21 subspecies of rusa were described, many have been determined solely by appearance and distribution. No genetic work has been done on rusa subspecies to determine how different they in fact are, and as a result the taxonomic validity of the majority of those are doubtful at best.
Two subspecies of Rusa deer have been introduced in the Papuan region according to some authors, Javan Rusa and C. t. timorensis (Blainville, 1822) and Moluccan Rusa C. t. moluccensis (Quay & Gaimard, 1830) (Whitehead, 1972; Long, 2003). However, given the state of things we believe that no subspecies should be recognized until a through systematic revision is undertaken.
The Rusa deer were introduced to the Port Moresby area by W. Gorse in about 1900, where a small population has persisted since then (Downes, 1968; Lindgren, 1975; Herrington, 1977; Bentley, 1978; Long 2003). In 1909 it was introduced on the Hermit Islands, lying to the west of the Bismarck Archipelago by H. R. Wahlen, a planter on Margon Island. The stock was obtained from an Australian zoo. These later crossed to Arkeb Island, where they increased substantially in numbers and there transferred or driven to Luf Island. The bulk of this herd is now on Luf Island and in 1954 there were about 200 individuals, but the species is probably quite rare there now (Downes, 1968; Whitehead, 1972; Herrington, 1977; Bentley, 1978; Long, 2003). The population found on these islands is occasionally targeted by local hunting outfitters (I. Khunko pers. comm), though no current population estimates is available. Rusa deer may also have been introduced to Ninigo Island, off Wewak, as they formerly occurred on this species in the north-west of the Hermit Group (Bell, 1975; Lever, 1985). They do not occur there now (Bell, 1975). In about 1910 German settlers introduced the Timor Rusa deer (C. t. timorensis), near Rabaul, East New Britain (Whitehead, 1972; Lindgren, 1975; Bentley, 1978). A small population still inhabits the Gazelle Peninsula (Downes, 1968; Herrington, 1977; Flannery, 1995b).
(Flock of Rusa deer on the Bensbach Plains, Western Province, south-west PNG)
In 1913 some Rusa deer were imported from Seram in the Maluku Province and released into the western parts of the Fakfak (= Onin) Peninsula by R. van Oldebarnevelt (Van Bemmel, 1949), while in 1920 some more Rusa deers were imported by Lulofs from Halmahera in the Maluku Province, and then released on the west coast of the Cenderawasih (Geelvink) Bay near Manokwari, Momi, Muturi River, and on Runberpon Island, and also near Jayapura (=Hollandia) in north-east Papua Province (Westermann, 1947; Van Bemmel, 1949; Lindgren, 1975). This species was introduced to the Merauke area by Dutch missionaries between 1913 and 1920 (Downes, 1968; Pangkali, 2005), and shortly afterwards they crossed the border into the Trans-fly region of south-west Papua New Guinea, where they now inhabit over 260km2 of country. The range of the Moluccan Rusa (C. t. moluccensis) now covers most of the south coastal plains, from the Gulf of Papua to the Fakfak (=Onin) Peninsula. This species is widespread throughout the Papuan region and they ("Moluccan Rusa deer C. moluccensis") also occur in the northern Vogelkop (including the Tamrau and Arfak Mts) and have more recently been introduced into the Lake Sentani region, from where they have spread into the Nimbokrang area (situated in the foothills of the Foja Mts) where they are now well established (Flannery, 1995a; Long, 2003; I. Khunko pers. obs). Another population of Rusa ("Javan Rusa deer C. t. timorensis") is found near Port Moresby and inland through the Owen Stanley Range as far north as Wau in the Morobe Province, there is also a population in the grasslands surrounding the village of Nongawa, situated approximately 50km south of Wewak in the East Sepik Province (this area is popular with local hunting outfitters), and they also occur on the Gazelle Peninsula in the East New Britain Province, Bismarck Archipelago.
The main concentrations of Rusa deer in the Papuan region are found on the plains between the Bensbach and Morehead rivers, it was estimated that there were 12,0000 individuals on the Bula Plains in 1968 and about 10,787 individuals in the same area in 1973 (Downes, 1978; Herrington, 1977; Lindgren, 1975). It is now well established in this region but there has not been any population assessments for several decades, although there is probably well over 100,000 individuals found in the Papua New Guinea, with the majority in the Trans-fly region. Their numbers is steadily increasing, and the population will probably eventually reach over 200,000 individuals. It was placed on the protected species list by the Dutch colonial government due to its vulnerability in its native ranges, but it was still commonly hunted for its meat and trophies by the Dutch settlers and local people in the 1960s (Petocz & Raspado, 1984). Some populations make seasonal movements, numbers of Rusa deer in the border area between West Papua and Papua New Guinea peak during the wet season, whereas in the dry season many move to the interior of Papua New Guinea (Semiadi 2006).
In 1992 there was estimated to be over 8,000 Rusa deer in the Wasur National Park alone (Anon, 1994) and this large population has lead to major changes in the local ecosystem, including the reduction off tall swamp grasses and consequent ceasing of breeding of many wetland species, reduction of the Phragmites reed species, and the extensive spread of Melaleuca onto the open grasslands. The endemic and vulnerable Fly River Grassbird (Megalurus albolimbatus) does no longer occur in the Wasur National Park due to the deers overgrazing and destroying suitable habitat. Controlled harvest is a rational management in order to deal with the negative impacts to which this species is responsible and harvesting Rusa deer by traditional means and developing a market system for its meat was one of the projects underway in the Wasur National Park in 1993, in order to bring benefits to local communities. In 1993 some 2,250 deer provided local villages a important source of income.
The trophy hunting industry is a rapidly growing industry in Papua New Guinea, there is several wildlife lodges established on the plains between the Bensbach and Morehead rivers with a growing number of hunting outfitters offering deer hunting, the bag limit is said to be five per hunters. There is also local hunting outfitters arranging hunting trips to the vast lowland grasslands surrounding the village of Nongawa, situated approximately 50km south of Wewak in the East Sepik Province where this species is said to be abundant.