The silver-backed chevrotain is a rare species of the mouse-deer which was thought by many in the science community to have been extinct.
After three decades since its last confirmed sightings, the mouse deer, with its distinct two-tone color, was recently captured on film in a Vietnamese forest. Images of the rabbit-sized animal were captured by camera traps set up by scientists as it was apparently looking for something to eat, reports the Guardian.
“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,” Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) expedition team leader An Nguyen was quoted as saying.
“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,” the scientist added.
Among the 10 chevrotain species, the silver-backed chevrotain was first described in 1910 when four Vietnamese mouse deer were collected, according to GWC. The group had listed the animals on their list of top 25 most wanted lost species.
Neither a mouse nor a deer, the majestic “mouse-deer” is considered the world’s smallest hoofed animal (ungulate). According to the scientists, the half-painted, rabbit-sized animal is being pushed to the brink of extinction by hunters who often leave snares.
Upon interviewing villagers and government forest rangers in the remote provinces of Vietnam, Nguyen’s research team realized that the species might not have died out in the wild after all, as previously thought.
After some participants claimed seeing grey chevrotains in the area, the scientists began their search in the areas where the animals had previously been spotted. They immediately set up three camera traps in a lowland forest in southern Vietnam.
The team successfully photographed 275 photos of the animal over the course of five months. The images were captured in 72 separate events, involving multiple photos taken in the span of an hour which is then considered as just one event.
Following the success in finding the long-lost mouse deer, researchers set up 29 more cameras in the same area. By the end of the study, the group allegedly collected 208 independent events, comprising of 1881 additional photographs.
Published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, the study did not clarify how many individual animals the captured photographs represent. With the discovery, the scientists have urged everyone to help protect what remains of the population. It also raised hopes that other “lost” species could still be found in the wild.
“Stopping snaring will not only protect the silver-backed chevrotain, but also numerous other species, including several mammals and birds that are only found in the Greater Annamites ecoregion and are threatened with extinction,” Andrew Tilker, a GWC team member, explained.
Tilker pointed out that working with local communities is key in ensuring the success of on-the-ground survey efforts for monitoring other species in a similar status.
“Incorporating this local ecological knowledge was critical for our work, and this strategy could prove successful for other species in other parts of the world,” he noted.