‘Lost’ mouse-deer rediscovered in Vietnam

Scientists have photographed the silver-backed chevrotain – a species not seen for almost 30 years.

Silver-back chevrotain photographed by a camera trap. © Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP

Conservationists working in the coastal forests of Vietnam were ecstatic when checking their camera traps to find that they had captured the first photographs in almost 3 decades of the silver-backed chevrotain.

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The last validated sighting of the species, also known as the Vietnamese mouse-deer, was in 1990.

The team from Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), Southern Institute of Ecology, and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research had initially installed 3 camera traps, following reports by local villagers and government forest rangers of a grey-coloured chevrotain, which would be different to the more commonly seen lesser chevrotain.

After 5 months, they had captured 275 photos of the species. Another 29 cameras were set up for a further 5 months, resulting in 1,881 photographs.

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

“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.”

Setting up camera traps in the search for the lost silver-backed chevrotain. © Andrew Tilker
Setting up camera traps in the search for the lost silver-backed chevrotain. © Andrew Tilker

GWC has been searching for 25 lost species, and the silver-backed chevrotain is the project’s fourth species, and the first mammal, to be found.

Despite its alternative name of the Vietnamese mouse-deer, the silver-backed chevrotain is not actually a deer (or a mouse). Like deer, chevrotains are ungulates, a group that includes cattle, giraffes, hippos, camels and horses.

Chevrotains are the world’s smallest ungulates. There are 10 known species, belong to 3 genera, which are primarily found in Asia.

The silver-backed chevrotain is categorised as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, meaning that there is not enough information available to determine an accurate conservation status.

It was first described scientifically in 1910, based on 4 specimens collected in 1907 from southern Vietnam. A fifth specimen was collected in 1990 from central Vietnam.

Silver-back chevrotain photographed by a camera trap. © Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP
Silver-back chevrotain photographed by a camera trap. © Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP

Species described as Data Deficient are often lacking critical conservation management strategies, as limited resources are prioritised towards species with more accurate IUCN status’ with defined conservation needs.

The new sightings of the silver-backed chevrotain adds to the very limited data available for this species.

The GWC team have already started a comprehensive survey that aims to determine the size and stability of this population, its distribution, and potential threats.

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

Read the full paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution


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Main image: Silver-back chevrotain photographed by a camera trap. © Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP