The sangai is an endemic, rare and endangered subspecies of brow-antlered deer found only in Manipur, India. It is also state animal of Manipur. Its common English name is Manipur brow-antlered deer and the scientific name, Rucervus eldii eldii McClelland. It lives in the marshy wetland in Keibul Lamjao about 45 km from Imphal. Its habitat is located 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.
The 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. The park covers an area of 40 km2. and the home range of the deer in the park is confined to 15–20 km2.
Phumdi is the most important and unique part of the habitat. It is the floating mass of entangled vegetation 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.
The brow-antlered deer is a medium-sized deer, with uniquely distinctive antlers with extremely 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 initially whereas curvature increases as length increases and they get forked also. The sexes are moderately dimorphic in body size and weight. The height and weight of the female are shorter and less as compared to the male counterpart. The tail is short and rump patch is not pronounced.
The sangai has a maximum lifespan in the wild of around 10 years.
Culturally, the sangai finds itself imbedded deep into the legends and folklore of the Manipuris. Based on a popular folk legend, the sangai is interpreted as the binding soul between humans and the nature. The slaying of the sangai, an unpardonable sin, is conceived as the rude breaking up of the cordial 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 symbol of a prized possession of the state.
It is believed that the name sangai (sa “animal” and ngai “in awaiting”) was coined from its peculiar posture and behaviour while running. By nature, the deer, particularly the males, even when running for its life stops occasionally and looks back as if he is waiting for someone and hence the name.
The sangai was believed to be almost extinct by 1950. However, in 1953 six heads of the sangai were found hovering 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)
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