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Elusive deer-like animal ‘rediscovered’ in Vietnam

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Meet Vietnam’s silver-backed chevrotain. Once thought lost to science, the animal has been found again, an international research team reports.

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Photographs the group gathered of the species in forests near the city of Nha Trang in Vietnam are the first scientific evidence of the small hoofed mammal in nearly 30 years.

The animal was first described in 1910 from four specimens, but since then only one verifiable record exists, from the early 1990s.

The Red List of Threatened Species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor) as ‘data deficient’.

But, in a paper published 1 in Nature Ecology & Evolution on 11 November, conservationist Andrew Tilker at Global Wildlife Conservation, a non-governmental organization in Austin, Texas, and colleagues report that they obtained a total of 280 photographs of the creature during two separate periods between late 2017 and mid-2018.

Local awareness

Tilker says although people living near the Nha Trang forests were aware of the silver-backed chevrotain’s existence, his research team considered the species lost to science because it had been undocumented or undetected by a scientist or naturalist for at least a decade until their discovery.

He says locals helped the team to site their camera traps in places the creature was likely to visit.

“To these local people our camera-trap evidence that the silver-backed chevrotain survives in Vietnam is not new,” says Tilker. “But to the wider scientific community, we are comfortable saying that our findings constitute a rediscovery.”

The team hopes that the camera sightings will be followed up by ground surveys to assess the population, which is threatened by hunting, deforestation and the encroachment of urban areas into its habitat. “Without immediate follow-up action, there is a risk that the silver-backed chevrotain could be lost once again,” write the authors.

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