Close encounters of the Rusa Kind

Close encounters of the Rusa Kind - Dog & Gun Coffee

Words and photos: Shaun Lynch 

Rache and I were recently on a "workcation" in the West Bali National Park; freediving coral reefs in the mornings, working during the day and then exploring forests in the evening.

Wharf for diving off in the mornings

The area we were in is best known as a sanctuary for the near-extinct Bali Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi), locally known as "Jalak Bali" - unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of them - but there is also a ton of other fauna there, including Javan Rusa deer (Cervus timorensis).

Anytime we travel, if I know there are deer around, I'll spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to locate them and get photos. I was really lucky on this trip because the deer in the area were used to humans being around and they are protected there, so have no hunting pressure. With cautious movement, it was easy to stalk in really close without disturbing them.

Rusa hind up close scratching her ear

This made for a great opportunity to observe Rusa deer go about their lives and there was one family group of hinds that I managed to find pretty regularly as they seemed to work a similar circuit most days.

The deer were visible at all hours of the day and would spend the vast majority of their time browsing grass patches, leaves on trees, freshly fallen leaves and I even saw them eating seaweed on the beach at low tide. I never saw them actually drinking water from the sea but I was told by one of the locals that they do drink salt water and it's an important source of minerals for them.

Rusa deer at the beach

The larger, mature hind was always vigilantly watching for danger. She kept a little bit further away from me than the others would. If I moved too fast or another person or vehicle came nearby, she'd lift her head up, lock on to the potential danger, swivel her giant ears around, sniff the air and - if she did that for long enough - then the other two would soon stop browsing and do the same. Too much pressure on them and she'd lead the group quickly into the thick jungle and they'd be gone for a day or two.

There was a bit of a novelty in seeing them on the beach alongside the local monkey population (they didn't seem bothered by each other) and wading through rock pools searching for different food sources. I was told that they have been known to swim to an island about 1.5km away, which would be an interesting sight to see.

Monkey and Rusa deer Indonesia

While there's no opportunity to hunt deer in Indonesia, I always appreciate great having an encounter with deer where I can learn a bit about their behaviour and get some great photos.

Young rusa hind