Vanishing Species – Mouse Deer


 An article by Mohan Pai 

The Indian Mouse Deer
Or Indian Chevrotain
(Tragulus meminna)

India’s smallest deer, the Mouse deer is a very timid and nocturnal animal difficult to spot in the wild.

This species was widespread and successful from the Oligocene (34 million years ago) to the Miocene (about 5 million years ago), but has remained almost unchanged over that time and remains as an example of primitive ruminant form. Chevrotains have a four-chambered stomach to ferment tough plant foods, but the third chamber is poorly developed. Like other ruminants, they lack upper incisors, and give birth to only a single young, rather than having pig-like litters. The dental formula of chevrotains is the same as that of some smaller deer.
“Chevrotain” is a French word “chevre,” which means “goat,” and it is then made diminutive to denote a “kid.” It is not closely related to a goat. “Deer” comes from the German word “Tier,” which simply means “animal.” The brown coat is speckled with white markings. The body is stocky, with rounded hindquarters. The legs are slender and the feet are four-toed, but the outer toes are small. It has 34 teeth. The upper canines in the male are longer and more pointed than those of the female. This animal grows to about twenty inches long, thirteen inches at the shoulder, and they weigh about six pounds. This nocturnal animal is very timid and disappears in dense vegetation at the least hint of danger. It is thus very difficult to observe in the wild. It is solitary, except for the mating period. Its diet is quite varied, and includes both plants and small animals.

The chevrotains have primitive features, closer to non-ruminants such as pigs. They do not have horns or antlers, but both sexes possess enlarged upper canines. The male’s are prominent and sharp, projecting either side of the lower jaw. Chevrotains have short, thin legs which leave them lacking in agility but also helps to maintain a smaller profile which aids in running through the dense foliage of their environment. Other pig-like features include the presence of four toes on each foot, the absence of facial scent glands, premolars with sharp crowns, and the form of their sexual behaviour and copulation.Chevrotains are solitary animals, and usually interact only to mate. The young are weaned at three months of age, and reach sexual maturity at between five and ten months, depending on species. Parental care is relatively limited. Although they lack the types of scent glands found in most other ruminants, they do possess a chin gland for marking each other as mates or antagonists, and, in the case of the water chevrotain, anal and preputial glands for marking territory. Their territories are relatively small, on the order of 13-24 hectares, but neighbors generally ignore each other, rather than competing aggressively.

Pic: Courtesy Wikipedia

Distribution and habitat
Within India, the Indian chevrotain is commonly encountered in a number of forest areas along the Western Ghats, in the Eastern Ghats up to Orissa, and in the forests of central India. The Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve at the extreme south of the Western Ghats appears to be one of the best localities for the species and may represent a major population stronghold. The species may also be frequently met with in most other protected areas along the Western Ghats such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, Silent Valley, Mudumalai-Bandipur-Nagarahole, Bhadra, and Kudremukh. Krishnan (1972) notes that the species is seen almost commonly around Karwar and in some forests of south India having also observed the species in the Simlipal hills of Orissa in the east. Along the Eastern Ghats populations of mouse deer occur in the forest tracts along the Nallamal hills and Srisailam Nagarjuna Sagar and also in in Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh.The Indian chevrotain is found in tropical deciduous and moist evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of the Peninsular Indian hills, plains, and plateaux, extending into montane forests up to around 1850 m elevation. They are reported to favour rocky habitats, grass-covered rocky hill-sides and forest seldom far from water, and often occur along forest streams and rivers.


Acknowledgements: Wikipedia, Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater, America Zoo.



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