It's neither a mouse nor a deer and, in contrast to the usual news, it's not extinct anymore either. The adorable and diminutive silver-backed chevrotain of Vietnam, AKA "mouse-deer," was thought to have gone extinct in the 1990s. Now researchers say they have caught evidence of a population of mouse-deer and believe there may be pockets of Vietnam where the animal still thrives.
Informally known as a mouse-deer, because there's no better way to describe what this thing looks like, the silver-backed chevrotain is a small ungulate native only to Vietnam. While never officially declared extinct, the mouse-deer was already so rare that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed its conservation status as "data deficient." Apart from unconfirmed local reports, the animal hasn't been seen in nearly 30 years. Now according to a new paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers have video evidence that there is at least a small population of mouse-deer still living in south-east Vietnam.
After local reports suggested a strong possibility that silver-backed chevrotains still lived in the forests near Nha Trang, researchers set up three camera traps with hopes to catch a glimpse of the animal. All three cameras had pictures of the mouse-deer. With such a surprisingly good result, the researchers increased the number of cameras to 29 and left them out between the months of April and July of 2018. When they retrieved the camera, 15 of the 29 had images of the silver-backed chevrotain. Professor James Watson of the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland says the results are "heartwarming." According to Watson:
"[The silver-backed chevrotain] was mythical. People talked for years about whether it existed or not."
Now that the animal has been confirmed to still exist, the researchers say their work is far from over. They write:
It is critical that the confirmation of the species’ survival is followed by on-the-ground action. The most pressing needs are to assess the status of the newly recorded population, search for additional populations and assess the major threats that the species faces. Together, this information can provide the foundation for an evidence-based conservation plan for the silver-backed chevrotain.
The researchers "recommend intensive, systematic camera-trapping across the forest block" to determine the accurate distribution and size of the population. They say that while their initial results were promising, the area of forest surveyed was not large enough to accurately assess the health of the mouse-deer population.
Still, it's good news in a world that is losing species more rapidly than ever before. Of course, it should also be pointed out that conservation efforts have done fantastic work in saving species that were thought to be beyond the point of saving. And we are finding out that many more species beyond the mouse-deer might not be as extinct as we thought.