Check out its miniature hooves and tiny fangs.
Photo: The unique two-tone pelage coloration of reddish brown to silver gray on the chevrotain’s back affirmed the camera had captured the elusive creature after almost 30-years absence from view.
November 11, 2019, was a significant day in deer history. Although some might argue it’s not exactly deer history, it was definitely historic.
That’s when Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) announced the rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain, the Vietnamese mouse deer.
The small, rabbit-sized creature had been prominently listed on the group’s 25 Most Wanted Lost Species, and finally, it had been captured on camera after not being seen alive for 29 years.
It was also the first mammal rediscovered on the GWC list of the 25 Most Wanted Lost Species.
There are 10 known species of chevrotain in the world, primarily from Asia. They are the world’s smallest ungulates or hoofed animals.
Shy and solitary, the elusive creatures seem to walk on the tips of their hooves and, remarkably, have two tiny fangs protruding from the upper jaw. Male fangs are much more prominent. One chevrotain genetic cousin, the Chinese water or vampire deer, has much more impressive fangs.
Some scientists consider the chevrotain a primitive, living fossil, an animal that is an evolutionary link between ruminants and nonruminants.
In 1910, the first individual silver-backed chevrotains had been described and collected in southern Vietnam. Eighty years later, in 1990, a group of Russian researchers collected a fifth chevrotain, but scientists still knew very little of the species ecology or conservation status.
That situation changed after local villagers and government forest rangers reported seeing a gray chevrotain.
That was exciting news to researchers and scientists.
In 2019, a field team placed three camera traps in the southern Vietnam area where local residents indicated the animal might be found. The results were much more than the team had hoped for because the 3-camera trap captured 275 photos of silver-backed chevrotains.
“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, associate conservation GWC scientist and expedition team leader.
This compelled the team to set up another 29 cameras in the same area, and over the next five months, those cameras captured an additional 1,881 photos of the small creatures.
“It is an amazing feat to go from complete lack of knowledge of the wildlife in of the Greater Annamites [mountain range in eastern Indochina] 25 years ago, to now having this question mark of the silver-backed chevrotain resolved,” said Barney Long, GWC senior director of species conservation.
Despite the name mouse-deer, chevrotains are not really mice, and they are not really deer in the way scientists classify animals. However, they share a suborder with deer (Ruminantia) and a chambered stomach. As for antlers, they don’t have them.
Of the known chevrotain species, the mammals weigh between 4 and 33 pounds. Water chevrotains are the largest of the species, and most weigh less than 10 pounds.
More information on the Global Wildlife Conservation’s work in finding lost species can be found online.
Resources: Global Wildlife Conservation; Rebecca O’Connell, MentalFloss.
All images and illustration by Eric Losh are courtesy of Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP.