An adult deer measuring just 20 inches at the shoulder and weighing no more than 25 pounds has been confirmed through DNA testing as a new species, making it the world’s smallest deer, according to a recent study led by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The "leaf deer" or "leaf muntjac," which lives in remote mountain regions of Southeast Asia, was first seen by WCS biologist Alan Rabinowitz in 1997 during field surveys in northern Myanmar (Burma). After obtaining specimens from local hunters, Rabinowitz brought samples to New York for DNA analysis. The results of the genetic work, published in the recent issue of the journal Animal Conservation, confirmed the leaf deer as unique.
"Through DNA sequencing, we were able to determine that this particular species of mutjac was clearly distinct," said the study’s lead author, Dr. George Amato, director for conservation genetics for WCS. "It’s a very exciting discovery."
The study, a collaborative effort between WCS and the American Museum of Natural History’s Molecular Systematics Laboratory, represents a relatively new approach to conservation biology, where molecular genetics dovetails with classic field biology to catalog unique wildlife living in some of the world’s most remote areas.
Several new large mammal species have been discovered in Southeast Asia in recent years, particularly in the Annamite Mountains of Cambodia and Laos. This in turn has led to increased scientific research in the area. Myanmar, however, remained virtually unstudied by western science for decades, until WCS began surveys in this isolated nation in 1994.
"Perhaps the most important aspect of this discovery is that this new species of mammal was found in another region of Asia outside the Annamites," said Amato. "This highlights the importance of continuing rigorous biological surveys in relatively unstudied areas. The fact that wildlife, as well as the habitats themselves are currently disappearing at an alarming rate adds a sense of urgency to such research."
COPIES OF STUDY AVAILABLE.
PHOTO OF LEAF DEER AVAILABLE VIA INTERNET: http://www.wcs.org/leafdeer.html
Wildlife Conservation Society. July 1999.