The Sangai is an endemic, rare and endangered Brow-antlered deer found only in Manipur, India. 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. Sangai is also the state animal of Manipur.
Distribution and habitat: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. It is located between 24°27’ N and 24°31’ N latitude and 93°53’ E and 93°55’ E longitudes. 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 number of deer listed in the Red data book was only 14 in 1975. Subsequent after the declaration of the area as National park and with strict conservation measures taken up by the Forest Department, the fear of its extinction has been greatly reduced.
Sangai in Manipur society: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.
According to a Manipuri folklore, a legendary hero Kadeng Thangjahanba of Moirang once captured a gravid Sangai from Torbung Lamjao for a gift to his beloved Tonu Laijinglembi during a animal hunting expedition. However, as fate would have it, he found his beloved married to the king on his return. The heartbroken hero released the deer free in the wild of Keibul Lamjao. From that time onwards the place became the home of Sangai.
In another folklore of Manipur, a prince called Pudangkoi of Luwang clan had, by the grace of a divine entity, transformed himself into a deer which has later on called Sangai. Further, there were references of Sangai head with crown of antlers, being decorated on the head of royal boat called Hiyang Hiren.
Identified as one of the rarest animal species in the entire world, the Sangai is the apple of the eye for the people. Talk of Manipur, and one of the first things to introduce the State is the Sangai, other than polo, its classical dance, sports and films.
|Rucervus eldii eldii|