Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Axis Deer, AXIS AXIS

from the November 18, 2012 Newsletter issued from the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

Nearly on a daily basis people living in the valley of the Dry Frio River see pretty gatherings such as the one shown above.

That's part of a herd of about a dozen Axis Deer, AXIS AXIS, next to the road to the house I'm painting. Here Axis Deer are not as commonly seen as White-tailed ones, but they are still very common. Within five minutes of walking of where I am now, I'll bet there are at least 20, and within a radius of a half-hour walk, surely a hundred. Especially you see their flocks moving at dusk. Sometimes, I've been told, hundreds gather at dusk in the Big Bluestem grass pastures along the entrance road.

Even from a distance it's easy to distinguish native White-tailed Deer from the Axis because adult Axis Deer are covered with white spots, while White-tailed adults are plain brown, with only the fawns being spotted. Even old Axis males with very large antlers are heavily spotted.

Another difference is that Axis Deer are noisy. A White-tailed Deer can sound a fairly lusty snort or whistle, but these Axis Deer can be heard from a long way off. With a little practice you can distinguish the harsh yelp of the female from the even harsher, somebody-being-murdered bellow of the male. You can hear one of several Axis calls in a YouTube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYXztketKJo.

Axis Deer are native to India and parts of adjacent countries. They were introduced into Texas in 1932. A study in 1988 found self- sustaining herds in 27 counties in central and southern Texas, with the highest population density here on the Edwards Plateau.

When you ask the local folks about the wisdom of having this imported species roaming around, sometimes they assure you that Axis Deer have different eating habits from the native White-tailed Deer, and therefore are no threat to them. However, the Institute for the Study of Invasive Species, a member of the Texas State University System, states that "Axis deer are known to occupy the same ecological niche as whitetail deer. This means they compete with whitetail deer for available resources. With an increased resistance to native diseases, axis deer are not susceptible to the same population decreases resulting from local disease outbreak. This would allow the axis deer populations to grow out of control, while the whitetail deer suffer from local disease outbreaks."

Still, most people around here like their Axis Deer. Since the Axis is an invasive species, normally they can be hunted year round, and the hunter can kill all he or she wants. People seem to agree that Axis flesh tastes much better than that of White-tailed Deer. Most land in this area is owned by large landowners who often sell hunting rights to outsiders. Having Axis Deer is a big attraction to many hunters, so usually the Axis are welcomed.