Sangai is an endemic, rare and endangered Brow-antlered deer
found only in Manipur, India. Its common English name is
Manipur Brow-antlered Deer and the scientific name, Rucervus
eldi eldi McClelland. It lives in the marshy wetland in Keibul
Lamjao which is about 45 km from Imphal. Its habitat is
situated in the southern parts of the Loktak Lake, which is
the largest freshwater lake in Eastern India. It is also one
of the seven Ramsar sites of international importance. The
habitat of the Sangai is now protected as the Keibul Lamjao
National Park. Sangai is also the state animal of Manipur.
Culturally, the Sangai finds itself imbedded deep into the
legends and folklore of the Manipuris. Based on a famous folk
legend, the Sangai is interpreted as the binding soul between
humans and the nature. The slaying of the Sangai, a deplorable
sin, is considered as the rude breaking up of the pleasant
relationship between humans and the nature. When humans love
and respect the Sangai, it is respecting nature. In the Sangai,
therefore, humans find a way of expressing their love for the
nature. Socially, the Sangai is the sign of a prized
possession of the State.It is identified as one of the rarest
animal species in the whole world, the Sangai is the apple of
the eye for the people. Talk of Manipur, and one of the first
things to introduce the State is the Sangai, other than polo,
its classical dance, sports and films.
Distribution and habitat
brow-antlered deer or the dancing deer is found in its natural
habitat only at Keibul Lamjao National Park over the floating
biomass locally called "phumdi" in the South Eastern part of
Loktak Lake. It is located between 24°27’ N and 24°31’ N
latitude and 93°53’ E and 93°55’ E longitudes. The park covers
an area of 40 km˛. and the home range of the deer in the park is
confined to 15–20 km˛
The number of deer listed in the Red data book was only 14 in
1975. Subsequent after the declaration of the area as National
park and with strict conservation measures taken up by the
Forest Department, the fear of its extinction has been greatly
Phumdi is the most significant and exclusive part of the
habitat. It is the floating mass of entangled vegetation which
is formed by the accumulation of organic debris and biomass with
soil. Its thickness varies from few centimeter to two meters.
The humus of phumdi is black in color and very spongy with large
number of pores. It floats with 4/5 part under water.
Biology and behavior
The Brow-antlered deer is a medium-sized deer, with
exclusively distinctive antlers, measuring 100–110 cm. in
length with very long brow tine, which form the main beam.
The two tines form a continuous curve at right angles to
the closely set pedicels. This signifies its name,
brow-antlered deer, the forward protruding beam appears to
come out from the eyebrow. The antlers of the opposite
sides are unsymmetrical with respect to each other. The
beams are unbranched originally whereas curvature
increases as length increases and they get split also. The
sexes are moderately dimorphic in body size and weight.
The height and weight of a fully grown stag may be about
115–125 cm at shoulder and 95 to 110 kg (210 to 230 lb)
respectively. The height and weight of the female are
shorter and less as compared to the male counterpart. The
length of the body from the base to the ear up to the tail
is about 145 to 155 cm in both sexes. The tail is short
and rump patch is not pronounced.
Sangai feed on a variety of water living plants,
herbaceous plants, grasses and shoots. Saccharum munja, S.
bengalensis, E. ravernnae, Zizania latifolia, Erianthus
procerus, etc. are the favorite food plants of Sangai.
Feeding behavior of Sangai can be easily seen over new
shoots on newly cut fire line area. It displays a bimodial
activity pattern. Sangai starts grazing generally early
morning at about 4:30 am and usually continue up to 8:00
am. On cloudy morning the period may extend to 10:00 am.
In the evening it starts at 3:00 pm and continue up to
6:00 pm. After feeding it takes rest. During day time it
rests under thick and tall reeds and grasses. At night
some of them even rest on the hillocks.
Sangai has a maximum lifespan in the wild of around 10
years.Rutting takes place in the early spring months
between February and May. Males compete with each other to
gain control of a harem of females that they can then mate
with. After a 220 to 240 day-long gestation period,
normally a single calf is born. The young are spotted at
birth; these spots fade as the animal grows. The young are
weaned at 7 months of age, and becomes sexually mature
from 18 months of age onwards.
Danger of extinction
Sangai was believed to be almost extinct by 1950. However, in
1953 six heads of the Sangai were found perched at its natural
habitat. Since then, the State Government has taken serious and
positive measures for the protection of this rare and endangered
species. A census conducted in 2000 in the park showed that
there were just 162 deer (54 stags, 76 hinds and 32 fawns).
The Sangai faces a two-pronged danger to its life. Firstly, its
habitat is gradually degenerating by reason of continuous
inundation and flooding by high water caused as the result of
artificial basin of the Loktak hydroelectric power project.
Secondly, poachers are out there to trap and slay the deer at
the slightest opportunity.
In 1983 the 103 megawatt capacity Loktak hydroelectric power
project was commissioned with the objective of ensuring rapid
development in the State. A maximum high water level of 168.5
meters (553 ft) above mean sea level (MSL) is maintained in the
Loktak Lake to feed the reservoir for the hydel project. This
high water level had wreaked havoc in the Keibul Lamjao National
Park. The high water level, maintained continuously through the
year, had disturbed the natural life cycle of the vegetation
growth, the phumdi, upon which the Sangai prospers. The deer
feed on several types of vegetation that grow on the phumdi. The
vegetation also offers shelter to the deer and other wildlife in
The life-cycle of the phumdi involves floating on the water
surface during season of high water as in the monsoons. In the
lean season, when the water level reduces, the biomass come into
contact with the lake bed and they secure the required nutrient
from there. When the rains come again and they become afloat,
the biomass have enough 'food'—the nutrients—stored in their
roots and their life continues. The result—the biomass are
losing weight and getting thinner by the year. Around January
last week in 1999, it was reported that a large chunk of the
biomass in the northern part of National Park had broken up into
pieces and had drifted freely from the park area. This was a bad
sign for the Sangai habitat. It spelled out very clearly that
the beginning of the end of the Sangai habitat had begun. There
are reports of local people cutting up the phumdi into sizable
pieces and then towing away these with dugout canoe for
'selling' to fish culture owners. This is another potential
danger to the Sangai habitat. It meant humans are now aiding the
process of annihilating the habitat area, supplementing to the
rapid degeneration of the habitat.