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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024







Silver-backed Mousedeer

Family : Tragulidae
Species : Tragulus versicolor

Head-Body Length : 40-45 cm
Tail Length : 5 cm
Weight : at least 1.7 kg

The Silver-backed Mousedeer (or 'Vietnam Mousedeer') is a rare species of chevrotain known only to occur in parts of southeast Vietnam. It was first described by Oldfield Thomas, a British zoologist, in 1910.

In 1990 an important specimen was acquired from the T窕 Nguy麩 Plateau (Gia Lai Province), at an elevation of around 500 metres, in habitat described as 'mature lowland semi-evergreen tropical forest' (Kuznetsov & Borissenko, 2004).

In 2018 a series of trail camera images were acquired in the vicinity of Nha Trang (Kh疣h Ha Province) (An Nguyen et al, 2019), some of which are reproduced here. These are the first ever images of the species alive in the wild, and they serve to confirm the continued existence of the species in the area (although the presence of these mousedeer would have been known by local hunters).

The habitat in these images appears to be dominated by dry, coastal, lowland scrub forest. Little is known of the ecology of this species, except that it is primarily diurnal in habits, and is mainly solitary.

The Silver-backed Mousedeer can easily be distinguished from other mousedeer by its unique contrasting fur colour: the head, sides of neck and shoulders are bright orange ('ochraceous-buff'), while the middle and rear part of the flanks bear grey hairs tipped with white.

The belly is white, and there is strong demarcation between the belly fur and the lower flanks. There is a white stripe on either side of the neck.

In these images the large ears are held quite erect, which perhaps makes them appear slightly larger than other species of Tragulus, and the legs appear to be relatively long when compared with the Lesser Mousedeer Tragulus kanchil (which also occurs in Vietnam). However, these are simply impressions gained from these images.

More importantly, detailed skull measurements clearly show this mousedeer to be a distinct and unique species (Meijaard & Groves, 2004), rather than a colour variation of another species.

This elusive and beautiful species is under threat by continuous hunting, including the indiscriminate use of wire snares and other methods, and by the loss of lowland habitat.

Figs 1 to 3 : Examples from southeast Vietnam, photographed in 2018 by automatic camera trap.

Figs 4 and 5 : Dry, lowland, coastal forest habitat in which the 2018 images were acquired.

Images courtesy SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP and An Nguyen.

Thanks to Marcus Chua and Andrew Tilker for assistance.

References : M5

An Nguyen, Van Bang Tran, Duc Minh Hoang, Thi Anh Minh Nguyen, Dinh Thang Nguyen, Van Tiep Tran, Barney Long, Erik Meijaard, Jeff Holland, Andreas Wilting & Andrew Tilker (2019). Camera-trap evidence that the Silver-backed Chevrotain Tragulus versicolor remains in the wild in Vietnam. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2019: 3 (11).

Kuznetsov, G. V. & Borissenko, A. V. (2004). A new record of Tragulus versicolor (Artiodactyla, Tragulidae) from Vietnam, and its sympatric occurrence with T. kanchil. Russian Journal of Theriology, 2004: 3(1), 9-13.

Meijaard, E., & Groves, C. P. (2004). A taxonomic revision of the Tragulus mouse-deer (Artiodactyla). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 140(1), 63-102.

Thomas, Oldfield (1910), Tragulus versicolor, The Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 8, 5 (2530): 535

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Fig 1
ゥ  SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP
Fig 2
ゥ  SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP
Fig 3
ゥ  SIE / GWC / Leibniz-IZW / NCNP
Fig 4
ゥ An Nguyen
Fig 5
ゥ An Nguyen