An ‘extinct’ cat-sized deer has been spotted in the wild after nearly 30 years, which was thought to have been hunted to extinction in the 1990s in Southeast Asia.
The cat-sized creature, also known as the “mouse-deer”, has been spotted after nearly 30 years of no sightings. The silver-backed chevrotain is small enough to be held in just one of your arms.
Originating from the Annamite Mountains, the species’ existence can be recorded as far back as the stone age, as the creature was depicted in cave wall art made by hunters.
The creature was prized by local hunters due to a growing demand for bushmeat, who use snares to catch small and rare animals.
However, it has been documented by scientists that the silver-back chevrotain is still living within the wild.
This finding has created a glimmer of hope for naturalists who are hoping to find other species that are supposedly extinct, alive and well.
A biologist at Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), co-study leader An Nguyen, from Austen, Texas said: “For those of us living in Vietnam and working in wildlife conservation, the question of whether the chevrotain was still out there and if so, where, has been nagging us for years.
“There was very little information available to point us in the right direction and we didn’t know what to expect.
“That we were able to find it with so few leads and in a relatively short period of time shows how a little bit of effort and willpower can go a long way in finding some of these special species lost to science.”
This marks the first mammal on the GWC’s list of most-wanted lost species.
Villagers help to identify possible chevrotain sightings with the research team. The team used the local knowledge they’d learned to place more than 30 motion-activated camera traps throughout the forest.
The team also set up another 29 cameras within the same area, this time the cameras were used to record 1,881 photographs of the chevrotain in the forest.
The team says in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that the number of distinct individuals is unknown.
Mr An said: “The results were amazing. I was overjoyed when we checked the camera traps and saw photographs of a chevrotain with silver flanks.
“With three camera traps left in the field for five months, we were able to get 275 photos of the species.
“The Silver-backed Chevrotain went from being lost for at least 30 years, to found really within a matter of months.”
Co-lead author Andrew Tilker, also a member of GWC, added a description of the thought to be extinct creature, saying it was “about the size of a house cat.”
Andrew also claimed: “You could hold it in one hand. Because it is so small, it would under natural conditions have a number of predators, including any leopard, tiger or wild dog – or probably even a python.
“However, most of these species are now very rare or extinct in Vietnam. The silver-backed chevrotain’s only real predator now is man.”
The biologists are doctoral students at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and they tracked the creature within the dry forest outside the coastal resort of Nha Trang.
Tilker commented: “Now that we have confirmed it still occurs in the forests of Vietnam, we can begin to develop an evidence-based conservation strategy to help ensure the silver-backed chevrotain retains healthy, thriving natural populations.
“There was a certain urgency to all of this work due to the snaring crisis that is decimating wildlife populations across Southeast Asia.”
To researchers’ belief, the silver-backed chevrotain can only be found in Vietnam, this makes the rare discovery one of cultural significance in the country.
Mr Tilker said: “It is worth safeguarding for future generations. But this is also a story that goes beyond a single country or a single species.
“It’s a story about how species that have fallen off the scientific radar should not be written off.
“When we come together to try to find these species, for example through Global Wildlife Conservation’s Search For Lost Species Initiative, we can be successful.
“And these successes can provide us with rare second-chances to protect global biodiversity.”
At this moment in time, there is currently little information on the silver-backed chevrotain. The creature was described in 1910 as one of four specimens from Southern Vietnam.
Mr Tilker said: “Almost 30 [more] years went by until our study. So – as you can see, we didn’t have much to go on.
“Indeed, it was only by working closely with local communities – first through interviews, later in the field – that we were able to obtain proof that it is still living.
“To me, this shows the value of utilising local ecological knowledge. I believe this is a strategy that could be important for other searches for lost species.”
This month the field team will begin camera trap surveys in two additional areas. These will run for at least three months.
Andrew added: “Just because we found this species relatively easily doesn’t mean it’s not threatened.”
In this area of the world, animals often end up victims of an indiscriminate hunting technique – using cheap, homemade wire snares.
Due to the level of hunting within the region, it has led to “empty forest syndrome” across Vietnam. Therefore, numerous species are being pushed to the brink of extinction.
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