Fabled mouse-deer rediscovered with help of Polish zoo

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In a shocking but pleasantly surprising twist for animal lovers, finding the chevrotain, also known as the mouse-deer, might mean that the species can be saved despite the many challenges ahead.

Joanna Kij of the WrocławZzoo explained the dangers in trying to save such a species, “Animals are written into nature and only those which truly do not have another way to survive or for which life in a zoo would be salvation are taken into one.”

The silver-backed chevrotain resembles a fawn and due to its small size is also called the mouse-deer. It reaches a maximum length of 40 centimeters and its body weight does not exceed 1.7 kilograms.

It is an ungulate, which are normally large mammals with hoofs, and has characteristic silver fur on its back.

The species’ story starts with its discovery in 1910, but for 80 years researchers were unable to verify data on the animal. Only in 1990 did scientists get an opportunity to study as chevrotain after it was shot by a hunter and delivered for analysis.

Researchers have been fruitlessly searching for a chevrotain for several years, with increasingly dire predictions for the species. It went so far that scientists decided that there was not any data to even indicate that the species existed in the first place.

Some compared the animal to the mythical unicorn.

Everything changed when in 2018 and 2019, camera traps captured photos of chevrotains in the forests of southern Vietnam.

The head of the research group An Nguyen had sent the photos out all around the world asking for verification. One person who received the photos was the head of the Wrocław zoo, Radosław Ratajszczak.

“I looked at the photo and was shocked. I immediately knew it was the chevrotain. When I zoomed in the photos and took a closer look, I could not believe I was looking at the smallest ungulate in the world,” Ratajszczak recounted.

The head of the zoo also spoke of his hopes for finding other lost species, such as saolas, which have not been seen in their natural habitat since 1992. The Wrocław Zoo is a part of that search as well.

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