Lesser Mouse Deer, Tragulus kanchil

The lesser mouse deer (Tragulus kanchil), also known as the lesser Malay chevrotain or the kanchil, is an even-toed ungulate that is native to Cambodia, Indochina, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sumatra, and Burma, among other areas. It prefers a habitat within primary and secondary forests in foothills or lowland areas. It can also be found on cultivated lands at elevations of up to 1,968 feet. Within these habitats, both arid and moist vegetation can be found, as well as mangrove forests. The lesser mouse deer has not always been classified as Tragulus kanchil, but it was given its name after much debate in the 1940’s. It is thought that further taxonomic review will occur, and that its classification may change. This species is the smallest recorded hoofed mammal, reaching a body length of eighteen inches and a weight of only 4.4 pounds.

It is thought that lesser mouse deer prefers to reside at lower elevations with thick undergrowth during the day and arid areas at higher elevations during the night. Although most species in its genus prefer undergrowth in secondary or old growth forests, the lesser mouse deer has shown a preference for disturbed areas. It is thought that this may occur due to the preference for younger plants in its diet. It consumes young shoots and leaves, as well as fallen fruits.

It is commonly accepted that the lesser mouse deer is nocturnal, but in many areas, it is active during the morning and evening hours of each day. It is a solitary species, and sometimes displays territorial behaviors. The homes ranges of males and females are known to overlap, but the main area of home ranges held by members of the same sex do not overlap. Males tend to hold home ranges for longer periods than females, because females move into a new range before giving birth. This species is known to mate with one or more individuals, and females have been recorded as pregnant almost constantly. The pregnancy period can last between 140 and 177 days, resulting in the birth of up to three young, which remain hidden in thick vegetation.

The major threats to the lesser mouse deer appear to be hunting and habitat loss. Most species of mouse deer, or chevrotains, are common throughout the Sundaic range, despite these threats. However, outside of this range, there is not much information regarding the status of the lesser mouse deer species. This species shares a range with the greater mouse deer, and north of this area, it is often hunted for its meat. It is thought to be resilient in lowland plains, however, to both hunting and habitat destruction, and is thought to be one of the only mammals that can survive in a small stretch of degraded forest at Houay Nhan, located near Vientiane, the capital of Laos. This trend of surviving in degraded areas occurs in other areas of its range.

In the 1990’s, the number of recorded chevrotain individuals in Vientiane markets was high, leading experts to believe that it is not in danger of extinction. Most of these individuals are not sold directly in the markets, however, so the origin of each individual is difficult to determine. This, along with various camera sightings, shows the resilience of the lesser mouse deer to habitat destruction and hunting as separate threats.

For populations located in areas where hunting and habitat destruction occur at the same time, populations show a declining trend. Studies conducted between the 1970’s and the 1990’s in some southern areas of the lesser mouse deer’s Viet Nam range included spotlighting studies and foot print assessments. In 1978, more chevrotains were seen each night than in 1993, when surveyors did not see any individuals on some nights. In the area studied, severe forest dilapidation occurred and the lesser mouse deer was a commonly hunted species. It is thought that in open forested areas studied during these years, spotlight hunting may have been the cause for the near absence of sightings of this species.

Despite the large amount of hunting and habitat destruction that occurs over much of the lesser mouse deer’s range, there is not enough evidence to support a major decline in its population as a whole, except in areas where habitat has been completely destroyed like cities. It is protected from both threats by law and occurs in protected areas, but more efforts are needed to enforce the laws in order to ensure its survival. More information is needed before detailed conservation efforts can be taken. The lesser mouse deer currently appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”

Image Caption: A Lesser Mouse Deer (Tragulus kanchil) in Fuengirola Zoo. Credit: Linda Kenney/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)