Camera trap photo of a Vietnam mouse-deer. Photo: SIE/GWC/Leibniz-IZW/NCNP
Camera trap photo of a Vietnam mouse-deer. Photo: SIE/GWC/Leibniz-IZW/NCNP
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Bengaluru: The rabbit-sized Vietnam mouse-deer was last sighted in 1990. It was thought to have been lost to poaching in Vietnam. But ecologists have now unveiled photographic evidence of mouse-deer captured via a series of camera traps in the southern region of the country.

The first mammal to be rediscovered as a part of a Global Wildlife Conservation project to find lost species was on the list of the top 25 “most wanted lost species” for the project.

The findings were published in Nature Ecology and Evolution Monday. The team included researchers from Global Wildlife Conservation in Austin, the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, and other institutions.

Not much is known about the species, which was first documented over a century ago in 1910. Only four members of the species were documented then. A fifth was recorded in 1990 after a specimen was confiscated from a hunter, before the species was declared lost to poaching. However, the animal was not officially declared extinct because no one was really looking for it.

The mouse-deer is grey in colour and also called silver-backed chevrotain.

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How the Vietnam mouse-deer was rediscovered

To rediscover the Vietnam mouse-deer, the ecologists working on the wildlife conservation project first set about interviewing locals to find out if any of them had spotted animals that matched the description of what they were looking for. Using the information given by local residents, in and around the coastal city of Nha Trang, the scientists spread out 30 motion-activated cameras in areas where the mammal was likely to be spotted.

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For five months, the cameras snapped away and captured images of 208 instances of the mouse-deer coming within view. A total of 275 photos were captured with initial cameras.

Afterwards, the team set up an additional 29 cameras in the same location for five more months, recording 1,881 photographs.

“The rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain provides a big hope for the conservation of biodiversity, especially threatened species, in Vietnam,” Hoang Minh Duc, head of the Southern Institute of Ecology’s Department of Zoology, Vietnam, said in a statement.

Observations about the animal

The Vietnam mouse-deer is neither mouse nor deer but falls under the category of hoofed mammals known as ungulates. Other ungulates, which are found in various shapes and sizes, include horses, giraffes, camels, pigs, deer, and even rhinos.

The Vietnam mouse-deer is the smallest known ungulate. The creature is found only in Vietnam.

From current observations, it appears that the animal is primarily active during the day and prefers to remain solitary. The camera images recorded individual animals 97 per cent of the time, and with partners for only 3 per cent of the time. The animals are shy and walk on the tips of their hooves. They weigh less than 5kg and have two tiny fangs.

The researchers still haven’t been able to determine the population size due to lack of data, but have stated that the animals seem to be present in large numbers in the area they surveyed.

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