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Elusive fanged mouse-deer caught on camera after disappearing for almost 30 years

On the brink: The Endangered Species Act
On the brink: The Endangered Species Act 07:57

An elusive fanged mouse-deer thought to be "lost to science" for nearly 30 years has been caught on camera in Vietnam, according to an article published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain, also called the Vietnamese mouse-deer, has sparked researchers to "urge immediate conservation actions to ensure its survival."

Despite its deceiving nickname, chevrotains are the planet's smallest hoofed mammals — not mice or deer, according to a Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) press release. The shy and solitary animals appear to walk on the tips of their hooves, boast two tiny fangs, and usually weigh less than 10 pounds. There are 10 known species of chevrotain in the world, the majority of which are from Asia.

The GWC and its partners, the Southern Institute of Ecology and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, announced the rediscovery of the elusive species in the Monday article. 

The silver-backed chevrotain was first described in 1910 from four specimens collected around the Vietnamese city of Nha Trang. Only one other record of the species has been verified: a hunter-killed chevrotain obtained during a Vietnamese–Russian expedition in 1990. 

"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," said An Nguyen, associate conservation scientist for GWC and expedition team leader, according to the GWC.

A camera captured this image of the elusive silver-backed chevrotain. Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP

The team discovered the species after speaking with local residents and forest rangers who reported spotting a grey chevrotain matching the animal's description. They then placed three camera traps over a period of five months at locations in Southern Vietnam where the animal may have been seen. 

The cameras snapped 275 pictures of the species, so the team went back and set up an additional 29 cameras in the same area, GWC reported. That time, they captured 1,881 photos of the animals over the course of five months.

The find has sparked calls for expanded conservation efforts to protect the species, which has survived despite poaching in the region. Wildlife in the area are often killed by hunters using homemade wire snares, a method the GWC calls "devastating." 

"It is an amazing feat to go from complete lack of knowledge of the wildlife of the Greater Annamites 25 years ago, to now having this question mark of the silver-backed chevrotain resolved," said Barney Long, GWC senior director of species conservation. "But the work is only beginning with the rediscovery and initial protection measures that have been put in place — now we need to identify not just a few individuals on camera trap, but one or two sites with sizable populations so that we can actually protect and restore the species."

A team is now embarking on a mission to determine the size and stability of the population, as well as the threats to its survival, according to the GWC release. The mission will be a part of the first-ever "comprehensive survey" on the silver-backed chevrotain.

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