The silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor), a deer-like species the size of a rabbit or small cat, has been rediscovered by an international team of researchers from Global Wildlife Conservation and elsewhere. Also called the Vietnamese mouse-deer, the ungulate (hoofed animal) had not been seen in Vietnam since 1990. The rediscovery was described in a paper in the journal Nature Ecology Evolution.
The silver-backed chevrotain was first described in 1910 from four specimens that were obtained near the city of Nha Trang, southern Vietnam.
Other than those specimens, only a single verifiable record exists. It was collected by an expedition to central Vietnam in 1990.
“The rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain provides big hope for the conservation of biodiversity, especially threatened species, in Vietnam,” said Dr. Hoang Minh Duc, a scientist in the Southern Institute of Ecology at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology.
“This also encourages us, together with relevant and international partners, to devote time and effort to further investigation and conservation of Vietnam’s biodiversity heritage.”
To search for the silver-backed chevrotain, Dr. Duc and colleagues conducted targeted surveys in southern Vietnam.
First, they used interview surveys with local villagers and government forest rangers to obtain information on the occurrence of potential silver-backed chevrotains in the vicinity of Nha Trang.
They then conducted follow-up camera-trapping in an area of where locals indicated they may have seen the animal.
They set three camera traps for five months and captured 275 photos of the species.
They then set up another 29 cameras in the same area, this time recording 1,881 photographs of the chevrotain over five months.
“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,” said expedition team leader An Nguyen, associate conservation scientist for Global Wildlife Conservation and PhD student at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
“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.”
The team now plans to determine how large and stable this population of silver-backed chevrotains is, the wider distribution of the species, and understanding the threats to its survival.
A. Nguyen et al. Camera-trap evidence that the silver-backed chevrotain Tragulus versicolor remains in the wild in Vietnam. Nat Ecol Evol, published online November 11, 2019; doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-1027-7