Rabbit-sized deer relative, lost to science, found alive in Vietnam
The Earth is on the brink of a sixth major extinction event, with animals dying off at an alarming rate. But it’s not all bad news – scientists have now re-discovered a species that has long been missing. The silver-backed chevrotain, a tiny deer-like creature that hasn’t been seen in the wild in almost 30 years, has now been captured alive and well on camera traps in Vietnam.
The silver-backed chevrotain, also known as the Vietnam mouse-deer or Tragulus versicolor, is about the size of a rabbit but looks like a weird cross between a mouse and a deer – hence its name. It’s one of the smallest members of the even-toed ungulate family, which includes deer, pigs, llamas, sheep and giraffes, among others.
Although it was first discovered in Vietnam more than a century ago, little is known about the silver-backed chevrotain, mostly because the elusive critter was rarely seen and poorly studied. In fact, the last official sighting was in 1990, when a hunter killed one.
That decades-long absence has earned the little mouse-deer a spot on the Global Wildlife Conservation’s list of 25 Most Wanted Lost Species. Although snare-hunting may have reduced their population, scientists weren’t particularly concerned that the creature had gone extinct – there simply wasn’t much field work going on around there. Locals insisted it was still regularly sighted, but none of these had been scientifically validated.
To track down the silver-backed chevrotain, an international team of scientists interviewed locals in three Vietnamese provinces, asking about sightings. With that local perspective, the team then placed 30 motion-activated camera traps in a forested habitat in hopes of spotting them.
And sure enough, over a six-month period the camera traps caught sight of the silver-backed chevrotains more than 200 separate times. The scientists can’t be sure exactly how many individual animals that represents, but it does at least confirm that the critter is still alive and well.
The rediscovery means that the silver-backed chevrotain joins a very exclusive club of “lost and found” animals. In recent years, scientists have welcomed back the Varanus douarrha monitor lizard, the Lord Howe Island stick insect, Wallace’s giant bee, Schomburgk’s deer (maybe) and a whole treasure trove of species hiding in the Lost City of the Monkey God in Honduras.
The researchers say that the next steps are to conduct more intensive surveys to determine just how many silver-backed chevrotains there are, and step up conservation efforts.
The research was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Video captured of the silver-backed chevrotain can be seen below.
Source: Global Wildlife Conservation
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