Fanged miniature ‘mouse-deer’ rediscovered by scientists in Vietnam

A miniature deer species the size of a cat and feared to have been hunted to extinction in the 1990s has been rediscovered in Vietnam.

The silver-backed chevrotain, a deer-like species also known as the Vietnamese “mouse-deer”, has a silver sheen, and is small enough to be held in one hand.

The very rare species, officially known as Tragulus versicolor, was first described in 1910, based on specimens obtained near the city of Nha Trang.

The last scientifically validated sighting was in 1990, when a hunter killed one and donated the specimen to scientists.

It was feared that high levels of poaching in the region may have pushed the species to the brink of extinction until a team from the Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) captured images of the animal living in the wild.

Details of the rediscovery were published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal yesterday/MON.

An Nguyen, an associate conservation scientist for GWC and the expedition’s team leader, said: “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.

“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.”

Mr Nguyen’s team interviewed local hunters in three Vietnamese provinces to identify possible chevrotain sightings before setting up three camera traps for five months, resulting in 275 photos of the species.

The team then set up another 29 cameras in the same area of southern Vietnam, this time recording 1,881 photographs of the chevrotain over five months.

The first photos and footage of a silver-backed chevrotain, which was last recorded more than 25 years ago Credit: AFP
However the possibility of repeat sightings means it is unclear how many silver-backed chevrotains area left and there is still very little known about the species.

The shy and solitary creatures weigh less than 10lbs, appear to walk on the tips of their hooves and have two tiny fangs. These are longer in males, leading researchers to believe they use them to compete for territory and mating partners.

There are 10 known species of chevrotain in the world, primarily from Asia. Despite their nickname, they are neither mice nor deer, but the world’s smallest ungulates – hoofed mammals.

A team is now setting out to learn more about the species, including the size of the remaining population and what threatens its survival. The biggest threat appears to be from wire snares, which hunters utilise to feed the demand for bushmeat in East Asia.

It is the first mammal to be rediscovered on the GWC’s list of top 25 most wanted lost species and the researchers hope to use similar methods to identify other species.

The team concluded that although the species can be thought of as “rediscovered” to science, the local surveys indicate that this species has not been considered lost among the people of this region.

“We shouldn’t give up on them just because we haven’t seen them in a long time,” said Andrew Tilker, a biologist at the GWC and a doctoral student with the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany.

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