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Ecology: Lost deer-like species ‘rediscovered’

Nature Ecology & Evolution

November 12, 2019

A species of deer-like ungulate that was thought lost to science has been discovered living in the wild in Vietnam, reports a study in Nature Ecology & Evolution. Previously, the last known record of the silver-backed chevrotain was a hunter-killed specimen from 1990, but researchers have now photographed the species alive for the first time in 30 years.

The Greater Annamites Ecoregion of Vietnam and Lao People's Democratic Republic is one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world. In 1910, a species of mouse-deer called the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor) was first described, based on specimens obtained near the city of Nha Trang, Vietnam. However, since 1990, no scientifically validated sightings have been confirmed, and it was feared that high levels of snare hunting in the region may have pushed this species to the brink of extinction.

An Nguyen and colleagues conducted interviews with local people in three Vietnamese provinces to identify chevrotain sightings consistent with descriptions of the silver-backed chevrotain in an effort to locate the species. They then used this local knowledge to place more than 30 motion-activated camera traps within a nearby forested habitat.

Following six months of camera-trapping, the authors identified more than 200 independent detections of the silver-backed chevrotain, although the number of distinct individuals this represents is unknown. The authors conclude that although the species can be thought of as ‘rediscovered’ to science, the local surveys indicate that this species has not been considered lost among the people of this region.

The authors suggest that more intensive surveys and engagement with local communities are needed to establish the size of the population, and to ensure that efforts are stepped up to help conserve the species.

doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-1027-7

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