Rare mouse-deer spotted in Vietnam forest after 30 years

By An Nguyen   November 12, 2019 | 02:03 am PT
Rare mouse-deer spotted in Vietnam forest after 30 years
A silver-backed chevrotain is seen in Vietnamese forest. Photo by Global Wildlife Conservation.
The rare and elusive silver-backed chevrotain or Vietnamese mouse-deer has been seen roaming in the coastal forests of southern Vietnam after 30 years.

Cameras set up by scientists have captured the world’s smallest ungulate with elongated fangs and distinctive silver-grey body searching for food in the forest. The last sighting of the animal was in 1990.

"We had no idea what to expect, so I was surprised and overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a chevrotain with silver flanks," said An Nguyen, a scientist and expedition team leader at Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) which spotted the deer.

The findings were published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Despite being called mouse-deer, the chevrotain is neither mice nor deer. Rather, it belongs to the ungulate (hoofed mammals) group with pigs and giraffes. There are 10 other known species of chevrotain in the world, found mostly in Asia. Scientists feared that poachers’ snares and other forms of wildlife hunting had driven the species to extinction.

The expedition team consisted of Nguyen and other GWC experts, Dr. Barney Long - senior director of species conservation and Andrew Tilker - Asian species officer, started out in 2018 by interviewing local villagers and government forest rangers, some of who recalled seeing grey chevrotains.

With this information, scientists installed three camera traps in one of the areas where the animals were spotted. Over the next five months, 275 photographs of the species were taken. In the next five months, they expanded the operation, installing additional 29 camera traps in the same place, capturing 1,881 photos.

GWC has decided not to release any detailed information on the newly confirmed population of the animal, for conservation purposes.

This discovery, however, is just the beginning. "It’s an amazing feat to go from complete non-understanding of the Annamites 25 years ago to now having this unique question mark resolved," says Dr. Barney Long. "But now we have to focus attention on this overlooked species and put it on a trajectory to safety and recovery."

Using the newly learned information about the silver-backed chevrotain, scientists are determining how large and stable its population is and what threatens its survival in order to develop an appropriate conservation plan.

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