Manipur is one of the most beautiful states in India.

The state is famous for its beautiful valleys, lush green mountains, scenic lakes, and wonderful waterfalls. The rich culture and welcoming people make the place a great tourist attraction for people who visit the land. 

But do you know what the most important part of the Manipuri land and culture is? Sangai.

The Sangai Deer – scientifically called Rucervus eldii eldii – is one of the three surviving subspecies of Eld’s deer. They are shy, peace-loving creatures of nature. These medium-sized deer live in quiet, secluded surroundings away from human presence.

Nevertheless, they are a delight for tourists who visit their habitat just to get one glimpse of these shy creatures! We don’t blame the tourists, though. These cute, submissive mammals are indeed a delight to watch.

But if you want to know the Sangai deer in detail, be ready to enrich your knowledge. We are going to share some interesting facts about the Sangai deer that are surprising yet equally interesting. So, without taking more time, let’s start right away.

Sangai Deer have extraordinary homes.

The Sangai deer do not live in the forests. They do not live in grasslands. Of course, they don’t live underwater or high up in the hills, either. So, where do they live?

They live in a unique habitat– floating pieces of land! Yes, the natural habitat of these deer is floating masses of vegetation. This one-of-a-kind landmass– called phumdi in the local language– is a marshy grassland that floats on water. Several kinds of organic debris accumulate and combine with the soil to form a phumdi. 

These swampy floating lands exist in the beautiful Loktak Lake in the Bishnupur district of Manipur. The Keibul Lamjao National Park contains this region to protect the Sangai. 

The Sangai deer only live in this particular area of Manipur. You won’t find them anywhere else on earth except zoos.

Keibul Lamjao National Park – the home of Sangai Deer

They’re the pride of Manipur.

Sangai deer are not just another species of deer. At least not for the Manipuri people. They are much more than meek animals eating grass. These deer are endemic to the wetlands of Manipur, where they are of great cultural significance.

The Manipuri people respect and worship nature. And they consider Sangai as the embodiment of nature. Here, a Sangai deer is the bridge that connects humans with nature. Showing respect to the Sangai is the same as respecting nature. And hurting or killing a Sangai is the biggest sin.

This is because the Sangai is an inseparable part of the region’s cultural and historical heritage. Numerous legends and folklore revolve around the Sangai. These stories explain how the Sangai were born and how they reached the place they live in now.

Due to this rich history, it is not surprising that the Sangai deer is the state animal of Manipur.

Sangai Deer were once (almost) extinct!

We are not kidding. At one point, everyone thought that none of the Sangai deer were alive. During the late 1940s, these deer were steadily vanishing. Eventually, they became so less in number that they became acutely rare.

Few people could spot even one of these deer in their habitat. As a result, they finally got “extinct” status in 1951. And they became history.

But that was not the end of their story! In 1953, they emerged again. Eldi Percy Gee spotted six of these deer in their natural habitat. The Manipur state government came to their rescue and declared them a protected species in 1954. Since then, continuous protective measures have helped increase their number from 14 in 1975 to over 260 in 2016.

They are still an endangered species, though. But the special part about Sangai is that they became endangered after getting “extinct,” and not the other way round!

They are called dancing deer, but they don’t dance!

Have you ever seen a Sangai walk on the phumdi? If yes, you already know what we are getting at. The Sangai deer have a peculiarly unique gait. They appear to bend their legs and lift them weirdly while walking. It almost seems that they are dancing!

Well, don’t blame them for their funny gait! It is not their fault. The real reason why these deer have been named “dancing deer” is not how they walk but where they walk. The swampy land of the floating meadows makes the Sangai’s legs sink into the ground. As a result, they lift their legs weirdly and occasionally hop to maintain balance. 

Now, you know where the name “dancing deer” comes from. So, the next time you see a Sangai deer dancing through a phumdi, remember that they are just trying to balance themselves!

Sangai Deer have a mysterious trait.

Ever wondered where the name Sangai came from? The name relates to a peculiar habit these deer have.

While running, the Sangai deer suddenly stops and looks back before running again. At first, this habit appears to be completely normal. Perhaps the deer is waiting for its partner or kids? But in reality, a Sangai deer does this even when there is no one to wait for.

What’s more, the deer make this seemingly meaningless gesture even when they are running from a predator. In other words, they stop and turn their heads without reason, even in life-and-death situations. Hence, the name Sangai in Meitei means animal in waiting.

They don’t like the sun!

The Sangai deer don’t seem to like the sun that much. Don’t believe us? You don’t need to. Their daily routines make it clear that they usually avoid the sun’s rays throughout the day.

These deer usually start grazing during the dawn, around 4:30 in the morning. They continue to graze for the next few hours but stop well before the sun comes overhead, around 8:00 in the morning. On cloudy days, the grazing period can extend to 10 AM if they are hungry. After feeding themselves for the day, they return to the shade of the tall reeds and rest.

They come back to the marshes in the evening, around 3:00 PM. After grazing in the marshes till 5 or 6 in the evening, the deer call it a day. They go back to rest, this time often on the hillocks.

The Sangai Deer is a prince in disguise.

You have read that right. And no, we are not joking. The Sangai deer are part of the Manipuri folklore. And as we mentioned in the beginning, they are the protagonists of various stories that describe their history.

In one of these stories, a prince, Pudangkoi, of the Luwang tribe transformed himself into a deer. This deer gave birth to the subspecies we call Sangai. If you believe this story, the Sangai deer are indeed princes in disguise!

Want more stories? Here’s another story from the Meitei folklore:

A young boy named Kadeng once caught a Sangai to gift it to his love. But when he went to meet her, he found that she had married the region’s king. A dejected Kadeng then abandoned the Sangai in Keibul Lamjao. And this is how these deer spread in this region.

Young Sangai Deer are spotted at birth.

This is a special characteristic present in the young members of the Sangai clan. The Sangai kids (called fawns) have speckled bodies. 

After living in their mother’s womb for 7-8 months, the Sangai fawns are born with speckles all over their body. They are mom’s children. They live with their mothers for 5 to 6 months and learn the art of living a Sangai life in this initial phase.

Staying close to their moms, they play together and have fun. But as they turn a year old, they start competing for territory. 
As you can see, Sangai deer grow quite rapidly, learning sexual maturity just in eighteen months. But this is not surprising, as they only live for about ten years.

Sangai Deer need a second home.

The Sangai have extraordinary floating homes that feed them throughout the year. But unfortunately, these homes are gradually diminishing. And as always, we humans are behind this habitat degeneration.

In 1983, authorities built an artificial reservoir to supply water to a hydroelectric power plant near Loktak Lake. To maintain water in the reservoir, they increased the maximum water level of the lake. This increased water level is slowly destroying the phumdis in the lake. The water is slowly ripping the floating masses apart.

As the phumdis are slowly vanishing, becoming unfavorable for the Sangai deer, where will the deer live? This is a pressing question that has disturbed conservationists for a long while now. Several proposals are in line, but we have yet to find a solution.

Moreover, the Sangai deer face another, more obvious threat– poachers. Although the Keibul Lamjao National Park has banned hunters from coming near these deer, the threats remain. As a result, the Sangai deer risk getting killed by poachers and local hunters.

The takeaway

So, those were some of the most interesting facts about the Sangai deer of Manipur. We can fairly say that Sangai deer are very interesting creatures, not as boring as they might seem.

The Sangai deer is one of the rarest species on earth. And although over 200 Sangai deer reportedly live today, the number can easily decrease due to their diminishing habitats. The threats from poachers are another problem altogether.

Despite all these vulnerabilities, the Sangai deer continue to attract us by their simplicity. We hope they thrive happily in their natural habitat for the longest time!

Enjoyed learning about Sangai Deer? We believe you’d also like to know more about another endangered deer species – the Kashmir Stags. Meanwhile, you can share this Sangai-filled blog with your friends and tell them about these interesting creatures. And we will be happier than ever!

To explore the flora & fauna more elaborately, keep visiting The Countdown List.