A tiny deer, long AWOL, has been spotted in Vietnam

4 Januari 2020

The planet is losing animals large and small at an alarming rate, yet now and again comes some good news in the form of a species believed to have been lost being rediscovered in the wild.

A case in point is the Vietnamese mouse deer, aka silver-backed chevrotain, a rabbit-size deer that was last seen in 1990. It was assumed that it might have gone extinct in the wild. Then a few months ago a team of researchers from the conservationist group Global Wildlife Conservation spotted the animal on camera traps placed in a forest in the Annamite mountain range of southern Vietnam.

After local villagers and forest rangers told the researchers they had seen the gray mouse deer in an area of southern Vietnam, the conservationists set up several camera traps during two separate expeditions. They managed to obtain a total of more than 2,000 photos of the species over eight months.

“We had no idea what to expect, so I was surprised and overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a mouse deer with silver flanks,” said An Nguyen, associate conservation scientist for GWC who lead the expedition. “For so long, this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination. Discovering that it is, indeed, still out there, is the first step in ensuring we don’t lose it again, and we’re moving quickly now to figure out how best to protect it.”

The silver-backed chevrotain (Ragulus versicolor) was first described for science in 1910 and was not seen again by experts until 1990 when a Russian expedition in central Vietnam discovered another specimen of the rare species. The elusive species remains little understood by scientists as it has not been observed adequately in the wild.

Chevrotains, which usually weight less than 5 kilograms, are the world’s smallest hoofed mammals with 10 distinct subspecies of them known to science. They are shy, solitary creatures that sport two tiny fangs and walk on the tips of their hooves. Like many species in Vietnam and elsewhere around Southeast Asia, the small ungulates are suffering from habitat loss and rampant poaching.

“The rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain provides a big hope for the conservation of biodiversity, especially threatened species, in Vietnam,” said Hoang Minh Duc, head of the Southern Institute of Ecology’s Department of Zoology. “This also encourages us, together with relevant and international partners, to devote time and effort to further investigate and conserve Vietnam’s biodiversity heritage.”

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