A mouse deer that was scientifically extinct was captured foraging for food in a Vietnamese forest. The images of the rabbit-sized animal, also known as the silver-backed chevrotain, are the first ever taken in the wild, occurring nearly 30 years after the last confirmed sighting.
"We had no idea what to expect, so I was surprised and overjoyed when we reviewed the camera traps and saw pictures of a silver-sided chevrotain," said An Nguyen, scientist and expedition team leader at Global Wildlife Conservation ( GWC).
"Finding out that it is, in fact, still out there is the first step in ensuring we don't lose it again, and now we are moving quickly to find out how best to protect it," he said.
Although they are likely hunted by leopards, wild dogs and pythons, scientists fear that traps set by hunters have brought the species to the brink of extinction.
Despite the name, they are neither mice nor deer, but the smallest hoofed or hoofed animal in the world.
Nguyen and his team began their search by interviewing villagers and government rangers in the provinces of Vietnam, where the animals had previously been seen. Some recalled seeing gray chevrotains, suggesting that the species might not have become extinct in the wild.
According to the information, scientists installed three cameras in a lowland forest in southern Vietnam. Over five months, they captured 275 photos of the animal. These were classified as 72 separate events, as multiple photos taken in the space of one hour are considered one event. Encouraged by the sightings, the researchers installed 29 other cameras in the same area and took 1,881 more photographs, comprising 208 independent events.
The findings, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, have increased calls for rapid action to protect what is left of the population. A top priority is reducing the widespread use of traps to capture animals for the wildlife trade.
"Stopping the attack will not only protect the silver-backed chevrotain, but also many other species, including several mammals and birds that are only found in the Greater Annamites ecoregion and are in danger of extinction," said Andrew Tilker, member of the GWC team.
The rediscovery of the chevrotain has raised hopes that other species once thought lost to science could still be found in the wild.
"A key aspect for future missing species surveys will be working with local communities, as we did for the silver-backed chevrotain project, to help guide survey efforts on the ground," Tilker said.
"Incorporating this local ecological knowledge was critical to our work, and this strategy could prove successful for other species in other parts of the world," he added.