The large-antlered muntjac, a small species of deer that dwells in the Annamite mountains of Vietnam and Laos, is dangling dangerously close to extinction. Until recently, researchers had seen the animal just three times since the year 2000. But in November of last year, camera traps captured photographs of a male and female muntjac in Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, raising new hope for the future of a gravely threatened species, Christina Ayele Djossa reports for Atlas Obscura.
Announcing their discovery in a statement this week, scientists and conservationists at WWF-Vietnam and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research revealed that the muntjacs are of reproductive age, which could mean that there is a breeding population in the region.
“It is amazing news,” says Phan Tuan, director of the forest protection department of Quang Nam.
First described in 1994, the large-antlered muntjac has a shoulder height of about 26 inches and typically weighs between 66 and 100 pounds. Over the years, the deer have been aggressively hunted for their meat and their antlers, which are used for medicinal purposes and as trophies, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The animals are often trapped by illegal wire snares, which are widely used in the forests of central Vietnam; government rangers and WWF forest guards removed over 100,000 snares from just two nature reserves between 2011 and 2017, according to the statement.
Camera trap surveys have captured a number of other threatened species in the forests of Quang Nam, including the Asiatic black bear, the Annamite striped rabbit and a cat-like creature known as Owston's civet. All of this is good news for the future of Vietnam’s biodiversity, and according to the Malaysian Digest, the survey team plans to expand its camera trapping efforts to other parts of the region to see what else they can find.
In spite of the recent large-antlered muntjac sighting, researchers are worried about the animal’s viability. Its numbers are critically low, prompting the Vietnamese government and international NGOs to start making plans for a captive breeding program.
“Large-antlered muntjacs do not currently exist in captivity, so if we lose them in the wild, we lose them forever,” Benjamin Rawson, the conservation director of WWF-Vietnam, notes in the statement. “Scientists are racing against time to save the species.”