Silver-backed Chevrotain

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Recently found Silver-backed Chevrotain
data deficient

Silver-backed Chevrotain

Rediscovery published: November 2019


The Silver-backed Chevrotain, a deer-like species the size of a rabbit or small cat, is the first mammal on the list of 25 most wanted lost species to be rediscovered. It was rediscovered by Global Wildlife Conservation and partners Southern Institute of Ecology and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. Scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution published the rediscovery in November of 2019.

GWC and partners were able to successfully obtain camera trap images of the chevrotain in Vietnam’s coastal forests. Finding the chevrotain—also called a deer-mouse—has been one of the highest mammal conservation priorities in the Annamites. Before now, there has only been one record of the species since 1907--an individual purportedly collected from Vietnam’s southern coast, near Nha Trang.

The field team is now setting out 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. They will use all of the information that they gather to develop and implement a conservation action plan that strengthens enforcement and protection of the species across its range, building on the increased enforcement already put in place at the site of rediscovery.

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Trail camera photos by: Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP

Click here to check out more photos and videos.

Lost species found: Silver-backed Chevrotain

Trail camera photo of rediscovered Silver-backed Chevrotain

Two 'miniature deer' caught on trail camera

Silver-backed Chevrotain showing off its silver flanks for the trail cameras

Vietnam coastal forests

Vietnam coastal rainforest, home to the Silver-backed Chevrotain (Photo by An Nguyen)

chevrotain skin


Notes from the GWC team prior to the search for lost species expedition:

“It may be that when we look for the Silver-backed Chevrotain, it’s quite easy to find. Or it might be one of those species that we look for that is never found again. Either way, it’s worth a try. It will be an amazing feat to go from complete non-understanding of the Annamites 25 years ago to now having this question mark resolved.”-Barney Long, Global Wildlife Conservation director of species conservation and expedition member

Our knowledge of the ecology and distribution of the Silver-backed Chevrotain is a bit of a black hole. What we think we know about the natural history of the species is primarily based on what we know generally about chevrotain species—they’re small ungulates (hoofed mammals) that are shy and solitary and feed on plants. They’re usually reddish brown in color with striped and spotted fur. They appear to walk on their tippy toes (the tips of their hooves) and they are among the smallest of ungulate species.

We know we have at least one record of the species from an expedition that collected individuals around 1910. We know that a Russian expedition claimed to have collected an individual in 1990, but the photos aren’t conclusive.

While the 1910 record indicates that Silver-backed Chevrotains may live in coastal areas, there’s no conclusive evidence that this is the case. If they instead live in deeper evergreen rainforest areas, they’re likely the victim of rampant and indiscriminate snare hunting throughout the Annamites, one of Global Wildlife Conservation’s priority wildlands. This poaching has devastated populations of other Annamite endemics, including Saola and Large-antlered Muntjac and left the forests empty. Scientists aren’t even sure that the Silver-backed Chevrotain still exists—and if it does, where and to what extent.

“It’d be amazing to find the Silver-backed Chevrotain, but that’s just the first step,” says Barney Long, Global Wildlife Conservation director of species conservation and expedition member. “No matter where it’s found, it’s going to be under severe threat, so its discovery will spur conservation action. We need to identify not just one individual on camera trap, but one or two sites with populations that we can actually protect.”

Determining the best place for an expedition to look for the Silver-backed Chevrotain will rely on surveys with locals, including hunters and rangers, though efforts to verify sightings will be complicated by the fact that there’s another chevrotain in the area, the Lesser Mouse Deer, that looks very similar. The expedition team will also look for evidence of the chevrotain in the market and trophies in villages as evidence that the species may still be around. A photo of a juvenile chevrotain collected a few years ago from a park in Vietnam provides the team with some direction--and appeared to mammal experts to likely be the Silver-backed Chevrotain--but there’s no way to confirm that.

If the researchers are then able to identify a few forest blocks that could harbor the species based on the interviews with locals, they will launch an expedition primarily with the use of camera traps to capture evidence of the species. They’ll use spotlights to try to see it live, and may use DNA analysis to confirm that the chevrotain is, indeed, the long-lost silver-backed species and not the Lesser Mouse Deer.

“It seems like this long-lost chevrotain just never got the attention it deserves,” says Andrew Tilker, Global Wildlife Conservation Asian species officer and expedition team member. “I’m hoping that by rediscovering it, putting it back on the map, we’ll draw more attention to the endemic mammal community in the Annamites. We want to show how incredibly special and fragile this community is.”

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