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An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
Rusa alfredi
Visayan spotted deer
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Rusa alfredi [Sclater, 1870].
Citation: Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond., 1870: 381.
Type locality: Philippines.

This species' taxonomic record (above) is taken from Wilson and Reeder (1993). Prior to 1983, Rusa alfredi (formerly Cervus alfredi) was considered to be a subspecies of R. unicolor, although some authors report it as a subspecies of R. marianna (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Whitehead, 1993). Melanaxis breviceps and M. masbatensis are synonyms for R. alfredi (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Wilson and Reeder,1993). This species is monotypic, although two genetically isolated populations exist on separate islands (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Oliver et al., 1991).

Physical Characteristics

This small, short-legged deer has a crouched build, similar to that seen in agoutis [Dasyproctidae: Rodentia] and duikers [Cephalophinae: Artiodactyla] (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Geist, 1998). It is the largest species endemic to the west Visayan islands of the Philippines. Body length is about 128 cm, and shoulder height is about 70 cm. No measurements of weight have been recorded in the sources investigated.

Reported measurements for Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi)
Source Adult Weight Head & Body Length Shoulder Height Tail Length
Rabor, 1977 - 129.5 cm
126.9 cm
77.0 cm
71.5 cm
12.5 cm
11.7 cm
Sclater, 1870 - - 76.2 cm 8.9 cm
Taylor, 1934
(in Nowak, 1991)
- - 64 cm -
Whitehead, 1993 - - 71 cm -

The pelage is fine, soft, and dense, and very different from that of other rusine deer (Grubb and Groves, 1983). The overall color is dark (almost blackish) brown, which may be tinged with red [based on observations of animals from Negros] (Rabor, 1977; Grubb and Groves, 1983). This deer cannot be mistaken for any other deer species native to the Philippines due to the presence of its nominal spots; all other Philippine deer are solid in color (Whitehead, 1993). White- to buff-colored oval spots are present on most of the body, being large and scattered on the flanks but growing smaller and fading anteriorly, disappearing at the level of the shoulders (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Whitehead, 1993). A row of faint spots lines either side of the dark mid-dorsal line, and there is usually a regular row of spots along the lower flanks (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Whitehead, 1993). Overall, the spotting pattern of R. alfredi resembles that seen in some juvenile rusine deer (Grubb and Groves, 1983). The undersides and the insides of the buttocks are whitish (Whitehead, 1993). This light coloration is especially noticeable along the groin and axillary region, and the inner surfaces of legs (Grubb and Groves, 1983). The legs are paler than body, especially below the hock and carpus (Rabor, 1977; Grubb and Groves, 1983). A gland on the metatarsus (foreleg) is marked by a dark spot (Sclater, 1870). This species supposedly lacks interdigital glands, but this has not been substantiated (see Grubb and Groves, 1983). The tail is relatively short and short-haired, being dark brown above and whitish underneath (Grubb and Groves, 1983).

The skull is narrow compared to its length, and the face is rather pointed (Grubb and Groves, 1983). Skull measurements may be found in Rabor (1977) and Grubb and Groves (1983). The skulls of males are slightly larger than females, and upper canines are absent in both sexes (Rabor, 1977; Grubb and Groves, 1983). The head is a paler brown than the body, with an even lighter region around the eyes (Grubb and Groves, 1983). The underside of lower jaw, chin, and lower lip are a creamy white color, which contrasts sharply with the rest of the face and neck (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Whitehead, 1993). The muzzle and forehead are dark, and the preorbital gland is surrounded by black hairs (Grubb and Groves, 1983). The ears are relatively small - only 8.9-10.5 cm long - and although black on their outer surfaces, the inner surfaces of the ears are densely covered with white hair (Sclater, 1870; Rabor, 1977; Grubb and Groves, 1983).

Typical of most cervids, only male Visayan spotted deer bear antlers (Whitehead, 1993). The antlers grow from short bony pedicels about 4.5 cm long (Grubb and Groves, 1983). The short, stout antlers are rugose (bumpy) and usually have three tines, including a small brow tine (Grubb and Groves, 1983; Whitehead, 1993). A male from Negros had antlers 24.4 cm long, with a span of 24.3 cm (Grubb and Groves, 1983).

Reproduction and Development

Whitehead (1993) reports the gestation period to be about 8 months. According to Montulet (1984, in Whitehead, 1993), the rut occurs in November/December, with the resulting offspring being born in May and June. Rabor (1977) reports that a single fawn about a month old was captured during the third week of April, setting the birth date at the end of March. Oliver et al. (2008) note that the species breeds throughout the year in captivity, and young may be captured in the wild in all seasons, calling into question the reports of seasonality. It appears that single fawns are the norm (Oliver et al., 2008). Young are spotted at birth (Whitehead, 1993). Males begin to grow antlers after the end of their first year, and remain in "velvet" for an extended period of time (Rabor, 1977). Several captive specimens have lived past fifteen years of age, including one over 20 years (ISIS, 2010).

Ecology and Behavior

Very little is known about the ecology or behaviour of the Visayan spotted deer. It is now believed to only inhabit steep, rugged slopes which are relatively inaccessible to humans; these areas are typically forested by dipterocarps (Cox, 1987). However, it is not clear what habitat types are naturally preferred: animals were once found in the extensive areas of cogon grass on Negros, and there are records of occurrence from sea level up to 1,200 meters (and even 2,000 m) above sea level (Rabor, 1977; Oliver et al., 2008). R. alfredi relies on dense forest as a safe retreat (Rabor, 1977).

Visayan spotted deer feed at night, and they are often hunted with headlights as they will freeze in the beams (Rabor, 1977). Oliver et al. (2008) lists R. alfredi as a predominate browser, with a note that fruits are "relished" by captive animals. However, one account of the species' diet (Rabor, 1977) lists the primary constituents of the diet as young shoots of cogon grass and young leaves and buds found near the forest floor. Individuals frequent recently burned forest clearings where they lick the ashes (likely for their mineral content) and feed on the new shoots (Rabor, 1977).

Local reports suggest that these deer live in small groups of up to three animals; males are frequently seen alone, and females are often accompanied by a single young (Oliver et al., 2008). However, larger groups have been maintained very successfully in captivity for long periods, and thus the small group size in the wild may be a function of habitat availability and human pressures rather than species biology (Oliver et al., 2008)

During the rut, males produce a roar-like vocalization (Whitehead, 1993). This vocalizing often occurs from a raised point, and resembles the barking of a dog if heard at a distance (Rabor, 1977).


R. alfredi is endemic to Philippines (Grubb and Groves, 1983). Rabor (1977) reported that Visayan spotted deer were found on Cebu, Guimaras, Leyte, Masbate, Negros, Panay, and Samar. However, in a three month survey Cox (1987) found this species to be extirpated from Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, and likely Masbate (a few individuals were reported in 1993, but the population was considered to be "functionally extinct" - Oliver et al., 2008). Oliver et al. (1991) expressed doubt that the reports from Samar and Leyte referred to R. alfredi, as Rusa marianna is known to inhabit the islands. Currently, R. alfredi is only believed to exist on the Philippine islands of Negros and the western Mount Baloy-Mount Madjaas region of Panay, having been extirpated from an estimated 95% of its former range (Oliver et al., 1991).

Countries: Philippines (Oliver et al., 2008).

Range Map
(After Oliver et al., 2008; Localities redrawn from Oliver et al., 1991)

Conservation Status

R. alfredi is classified as endangered (Criteria C2a(i)) by the IUCN (Oliver et al., 2008), but is not listed by CITES (2009). The major threats to the continued survival of this species include loss of habitat (due to logging and agriculture) and hunting which is most severe in the dry season which extends from January to June (Cox, 1987; Oliver et al., 1991). The IUCN (Oliver et al., 2008) now discounts hybridization with R. marianna as a threat due to allopatry (non-overlap in ranges), although hybrids are known to occur in captivity. Several captive breeding groups have been established on Panay and Negros using confiscated animals which were kept as pets; the first breeding centre was set up in 1982 near Miagao in southern Panay (Cox, 1987; Oliver et al., 2008). There have been no scientifically-based censuses of the total population in the wild, but Oliver et al. (2008) suggests that less than 2,500 mature individuals exist. Thankfully, the fear expressed in 1987 (by Cox) that a viable population of this species would not survive longer than 10-15 years does not appear to have been founded.


The Visayan spotted deer is sometimes called Prince Alfred's sambar or Visayan deer (Nowak, 1991; Whitehead, 1993). The species is named after His Royal Highness Prince Alfred, who sent the first known specimen to P. L. Sclater (Sclater, 1870).
Local names
Lasao, usa [East Visayan] (Rabor, 1977)
Around Lake Balinsasayao: dulom (a very large male), manginum (medium-sized or yearling male), libay (female), and pero (fawn) (Rabor, 1977).
Sambar de Prince Alfred (Whitehead, 1993)
Prinz-Alfred's Hirsch (Whitehead, 1993)
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