Sambar Deer vs Elk: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: October 2, 2022
Image Credit A-Z-Animals.com
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Members of the deer family come in all shapes and sizes. As a result, some of them look much alike, and others are very different. The sambar deer and the elk are two types of deer that share similarities in terms of their looks. These cervids have the potential to grow very large, but they lack other commonalities. Today, we’re going to compare the sambar deer vs. elk and show you how they are similar and how they are different from each other!

Comparing a Sambar Deer vs. Elk

Sambar deer in beautiful winter light and colorful background at wetlands of Keoladeo National park or Bird Sanctuary, India.
Sambar deer have amber or yellow-brown coats, a black tail with a light underside that measures several inches, and a somewhat sparse mane.

iStock.com/Sourabh Bharti

Sambar DeerElk
SizeWeight: 240-1,200 lbs
Height: 4-5 ft
Length: 5-8.9 ft
Weight: 350-1,300 lbs
Height: 2.5-4.9 ft
Length: 5-8.8 ft
Morphology– Heavily built body and thin legs
– Amber or yellow-brown coat that turns to a deep gray
– Black tail with a light underside
– May grow a thin mane in fall and winter
– Large antlers that measure up to 3.5 ft in length  
– Has a white rump patch and light hindquarters
– Will be tan in the summer, and they are dark brown throughout the fall and winter
– Thickly built body and thin legs
– Small, short tail
– May grow a medium-length, shaggy mane
– Large rack of antlers
Species– Rusa unicolor– Cervus canadensis
Range– Indian subcontinent
– Southeast Asia
Burma, Taiwan, south China, Thailand, Malaysia, and more
Introduced to some places like Australia and Florida
– Prefers to live in tropical forests, tropical rainforests, and grasslands
– Prefers to live near water
– Throughout the U.S. and southern Canada
– Primarily concentrated in the western U.S., with populations straddling the Rocky Mountains
– Populations in southern, western Canada, and central southern Canada
– Found in northern Mongolia, central China, and northern China, as well as Southeastern Russia
Diet– Herbivorous
– Grass, fruit, and water plants along with various bits of trees and shrubs
– Herbivorous
– Consume grass, tree bark, forbs, and more
– Primarily a grazing animal

The Key Differences Between a Sambar Deer and Elk

The greatest differences between a sambar deer and an elk are found in their morphology and range. Elk are large members of the deer family with a tan-colored body, a white rump patch and light hindquarters, a shaggy mane in the fall, and a small, short tail, but sambar deer have amber or yellow-brown coats, a black tail with a light underside that measures several inches, and a somewhat sparse mane. Elk are found throughout North America, parts of Asia, and parts of southeast Russia, but Sambar deer live throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

However, their bodies and range are not the animals’ only differences. These creatures have several other less obvious qualities as well.  

Sambar Deer vs. Elk: Size

Elk
On average, an elk can weigh anywhere between 350 and 1,300 pounds.

iStock.com/FluidMediaFactory

The sambar deer can grow about the same size as the average elk, but the elk weighs more. On average, an elk can weigh anywhere between 350 and 1,300 pounds compared to the sambar deer, which weighs between 240 and 1,200 pounds on average.

Also, elk stand between 2 and 4.9 feet tall at the withers, while the sambar deer can stand up to 5 feet tall. Lastly, a sambar deer measures up to 8.9 feet long, and an elk can measure up to 8.8 feet long at their longest. All told, these animals are similar in size, but elk weigh more on average.

Sambar Deer vs. Elk: Morphology

Male Sambar deer standing in the middle of a jungle stream at Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sambar deer have a black tail with a light underside that measures several inches in length.

iStock.com/neelsky

The sambar deer and elk have similar-looking bodies, but you can tell them apart. Both species have very large bodies, thin legs, and a large rack of antlers. Yet, the sambar deer is either amber or yellow-brown in color, and that coat turns into a deep gray in the winter.

Meanwhile, elk have a tan body in the summer that turns dark brown in the fall and winter. The elk are also known for having a white rump patch and light hindquarters. Elk have a very short tail, but sambar deer have a black tail with a light underside that measures several inches in length.

Although sambar deer and elk can both grow manes, the elk has a thicker, shaggier, and more noticeable mane in most cases. All told, these members of the deer family have many commonalities in their bodies, but they have enough differences to tell them apart.

Sambar Deer vs. Elk: Species

boiling river yellowstone
Elks have very short tails.

Cody Linde/Shutterstock.com

The sambar deer and the elk may look alike, but they’re from different species. Sambar deer are known as Rusa unicolor, and elk are Cervus canadensis. However, they are both members of the Cervidae family, so they are still closely related. Also, both creatures have several subspecies as part of their family.

Sambar Deer vs. Elk: Range

Largest deer - Sambar
The sambar deer is native to the Indian subcontinent and South Asia.

Swarna367/Shutterstock.com

Elk have a larger range than sambar deer. These creatures naturally live in North America, such as areas like the western United States, southern Canada, and many parts of Asia. In the U.S., they are found in the areas surrounding the Rocky Mountains and other northwestern states.

Elk are also found in Russia, northern Mongolia, and central and northern China.

The sambar deer is native to the Indian subcontinent and South Asia, including many countries such as India, Nepal, Thailand, parts of China, and more. However, they have been introduced into many places around the world, including parts of the United States and Australia.

Although the historical range of sambar deer overlapped with elk, only the outer edges of their ranges are close to one another these days.

The Diet of a Sambar and an Elk

Bull Elk in the Fall Rut
Elk are primarily grazers that eat grass, tree bark, forbs, and more.

Tom Tietz/Shutterstock.com

Sambar deer have a more diverse diet than elk. The sambar deer and elk eat some of the same foods even though they live in different areas. Both creatures are herbivorous and eat grass as a part of their diet.

The sambar deer eats parts of trees, shrubs, fruit, water plants, and grass. However, elk are primarily grazers that eat grass, tree bark, forbs, and more.  

Overall, the sambar deer and elk have many similar qualities, but they can be differentiated according to their morphology, range, diet, and more. However, the chances of being in a situation where both members of the deer family can be present are low since their ranges do not overlap much, if at all.  

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Sambar Deer vs Elk

A-Z-Animals.com
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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Sources
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  4. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Available here: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/mammals/hoofed-mammals/sambar-deer/