Nov. 12 (UPI) -- With the help of camera traps, researchers have rediscovered a deer-like species called the silver-backed chevrotain in Vietnam. The species, Tragulus versicolor, sometimes called the Vietnamese mouse-deer, hadn't been seen since the 1990s.
Scientists with Global Wildlife Conservation, the Southern Institute of Ecology and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research announced the species' rediscovery this week in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
"For so long this species has seemingly only existed as part of our imagination," An Nguyen, associate conservation scientist for GWC, said in a news release. "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."
The rabbit-sized ungulate species was first described in 1910 after four specimens were collected from southern Vietnam. Another specimen was found in 1990.
After forest rangers and local villagers reported seeing a gray chevrotain -- distinct from the brown-colored lesser mouse-deer, or kanchil -- a team of researchers led by Nguyen set up a series of camera traps in southern Vietnam.
Their cameras captured 275 photos of the species over five months. When researchers expanded the constellation of cameras, they captured another 1,881 photographs of the silver-backed chevrotain over five months.
"The rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain provides big hope for the conservation of biodiversity, especially threatened species, in Vietnam," said Hoang Minh Duc, head of the Southern Institute of Ecology's Department of Zoology. "This also encourages us, together with relevant and international partners, to devote time and effort to further investigation and conservation of Vietnam's biodiversity heritage."
Chevrotains are the planet's smallest hoofed animals, or ungulates. While most of the 10 known species of chevrotain cross international borders, mostly in Asia, the silver-backed chevrotain has only been observed in Vietnam.
Chevrotains are one of several groups of animals threatened by deforestation and illegal hunting. In the Annamese Mountains, a small range that stretches across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, an indiscriminate hunting technique using homemade wire snares has led to what's called "empty forest syndrome."
Scientists hope the rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain will inspire renewed conservation efforts in the region. Researchers are currently conducting a survey of the Annamite Range to determine the size and scope of the silver-backed chevrotain population.
"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."