An animal that looks like a deer and is the size of a rabbit was photographed in Southern Vietnam for the first time in thirty years, confirming its existence and delighting conservationists.
The animal, known as the silver-backed chevrotain or the Vietnamese mouse deer, was thought to be lost to science, succumbing to habitat loss and illegal wildlife hunting. Very little is known about this species to researchers and conservationists.
Vietnamese biologist, An Nguyen, an associate conservation scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation said in a statement, “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.”
A team of scientists used camera traps to capture 1,881 photos of the chevrotain, after locals said that they might have spotted the animal in the beach city of Nha Trang. 29 cameras were set up in these areas to capture them.
According to Andrew Tilker, Asian Species Officer at the GWC, the biggest challenge in trying to rediscover the species was deciding where to start the search.
“We had these two historical localities separated by quite some distance—one in the southern part of Vietnam and the other much further north,” Tilker told CNN. “But we knew that many people have camera-trapped in the wet evergreen forests and hadn’t seen it, so we thought we should look at the dry forest habitat that’s really different and where not many people have looked.”
Tilker also pointed out the importance of knowledge gained from locals, which helped them locate the seemingly extinct species.
First described in 1910 by scientists, the chevrotains are the world’s smallest hoofed mammals (ungulates), walking on the tips of their hooves. The last record of the animal came more than 25 years ago, when a team of researchers from Russia and Vietnam obtained a dead chevrotain from a hunter in 1990.
“To the scientific world this was a lost species, but local people had known about it. It was only by utilizing the local ecological knowledge that we were successful. That can be replicated for other species in other parts of the world,” CNN quoted Tilker as saying.
Chevrotains are shy and solitary animals. They have two tiny fangs and typically weigh less than 10 pounds.
The details about the discovery of the animal was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday.
“In an age of mass extinctions, confirming the survival of lost species provides rare second chances for biodiversity con-servation. The silver-backed chevrotain Tragulus versicolor, a diminutive species of ungulate known only from Vietnam, has been lost to science for almost three decades. Here, we provide evidence that the silver-backed chevrotain still exists and the first photographs of the species in the wild, and urge immediate conservation actions to ensure its survival,” the paper said.
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