I had originally hoped to take my sambar, a wary, elk-sized member of the deer family, from its native range in China. But the continued uncertainty regarding whether hunting will reopen there forced me o settle for an introduced representative of this species.
Marble Island is 100 miles northeast of Rockhampton, with the only access by air charter. The island is a tropical paradise with pristine white beaches separated by imposing steep cliffs. It gets its name from the white-and-pink marble that forms some of the cliffs and, in places, creates a pedestal for the land. This was first a sheep ranch, later converted to cattle. Eighty head of cattle still roam on the island, and a full-time caretaker lives there, but a decade or so ago it was stocked with five species of deer, including javan and Moloccan rusa, axis, fallow and sambar. There is also a huge expanse of open land that provides a rare opportunity for free-range blackbuck, which are present here in good numbers.
This deer paradise has a diverse and rich habitat, more than 800 hectares (nearly 2,000 acres) if you include the several outlying large islands the deer have colonized by swimming to them. The vegetation is typical of Australia, mostly dry forest with intervening grassy meadows and several small freshwater lakes. In many areas the brush is as impenetrable as willow thickets in Alaska. Birds are abundant, and the bird watching opportunities endless.
As for the deer, rusa are the predominant species here, and we saw hundreds of fine specimens. One in particular would have made the SCI top five, I'm certain, and possibly a new number........(continued)