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Legendary deer rediscovered in Sumatran national park

10/10/2008 10:14:24

Sumatran Muntjac, the deer that science forgot (Muntiacus Montanus)Credited to D Martyr FFI-KSNP

Sumatra muntjac, discovered in 1914, last seen in 1930

October 2008 - The Sumatran muntjac, a 'lost' species of deer, has been rediscovered in the remote mountains of western Sumatra, Indonesia, nearly a century after its last positive sighting. A team working for Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Kerinci-Seblat National Park Tiger Protection found the muntjac (Latin name Muntiacus montanus) when they rescued it from a hunter's snare on an anti-poaching patrol 6400ft above sea level in Sumatra's Kerinci-Seblat National Park.

The Sumatran muntjac was originally discovered in 1914 but had not been seen since 1930. It is believed that the ‘type specimen' for the deer, originally filed at the Raffles Museum in Singapore, was lost when the museum was evacuated as the Japanese prepared to invade Singapore in early 1942, until its recent discovery at the National History Museum.

Photographic proof
FFI Kerinci-Seblat Programme Manager, Debbie Martyr, managed to take photographic proof of the rescued deer - the first ever photographs of a live specimen. Two more individuals were subsequently photographed, using automatic infra-red ‘'camera traps'' at a different location in the park.

Sumatran muntjac - rediscovered in 2008 after 78 year absence. Credited to D Martyr FFI-KSNP.

Sumatran muntjac - rediscovered in 2008 after 78 year absence. Credited to D Martyr FFI-KSNP.

New species - not a subspecies
Taxonomists have now confirmed that the Sumatran muntjac is a new species and not a local sub-species as previously assumed. The species is distinctly smaller and darker than its more common sister species, the red muntjac (Muntiacus muntjac). The 'lost muntjac of Sumatra' has now been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ‘Red List' of species in danger, under the category ‘data deficient', meaning field research is urgently required to establish the details of the deer's range, ecology and population status.

Seriously threatened by habitat loss
Despite the fact it lives deep within the remote Kerinci-Seblat National Park, the Sumatran muntjac's forest habitat is seriously threatened by slash-and-burn farming as well as illegal road building. In addition, poachers often set up snares, such as the one the photographed individual was caught in.

More about the Sumatran Muntjac

Kerinci-Seblat National Park
Debbie Martyr, FFI Kerinci-Seblat Programme Manager, said: "This encounter shows just how much we still have to discover about Sumatra's rainforests and the biodiversity of Kerinci-Seblat National Park. Yet even as we are learning, the tropical rainforests of Sumatra - even in the mountains and national parks - are under threat. We face losing species we didn't even know existed.

"We are also concerned that climate change poses a significant threat to this species - they are a mountain dwelling animal and depend entirely on a montane forest habitat. Where can they go if global temperatures rise significantly?''

Director of the Kerinci-Seblat National Park Authority, Suyatno Sukandar, said: "We were already very proud of this national park and its globally famous biodiversity and that pride has increased further with this new discovery. I hope that we can all work together - communities, local government and the national and international scientific and conservation community - to study and conserve this new species of deer for the future."

‘'One of the functions of a national park is to increase knowledge: This discovery shows the importance of further research into the hill and montane rainforests of Sumatra. I strongly suspect that more new species remain to be identified in the forests of Kerinci-
Seblat National Park''.

World authority on Muntjac
Professor Colin Groves of the Australian National University in Canberra, the taxonomist who confirmed the animals in the photographs were indeed Sumatran muntjac and a world authority on the taxonomy of Asia's deer, said: "This is an important discovery and it adds to our knowledge of the specialness of Sumatran fauna. It would be very interesting to see a field study to determine what the ecological requirements of the two different species are, the widespread lowland species compared to the endemic species - the montanus. When I saw the photos, I immediately recognized montanus. Its colouration and antlers are both significantly different from its sister species, the red muntjac."

 The above pictures are the first time a live M. montanus was photographed by a scientist. The individual, caught in a poacher’s snare, was shortly released by the FFI/KSNP tiger protection team. Credit FFI/KSNP.

The above pictures are the first time a live M. montanus was photographed by a scientist. The individual, caught in a poacher’s snare, was shortly released by the FFI/KSNP tiger protection team. Credit FFI/KSNP.

Robert Timmins, the taxonomist who submitted Muntiacus montanus to the IUCN Red List, said: "Muntjac have largely lain obscure for the twentieth century and we have certainly much more to learn about them. The montanus story epitomizes this, and should also be seen as a warning of the seriousness of current global environmental deterioration and what we stand to lose; known and unknown."

Achmad Jauhar Arief MSc, Head of Zoology, Research Centre for the Indonesian Academy of Sciences - Biology (LIPI) Cibinong, said: ‘'This muntjac recorded in Kerinci Seblat National Park is extremely important scientifically. We very much hope that, as a result of these photographs, research is launched that will focus on the status and distribution of these muntjac and that the results can be used as a basis for the management of protected areas in which they are present, not least because of human activities which threaten habitat or ecosystems in these conservation areas."

FFI will now start to work with the Indonesian Academy of Science and Indonesian Department of Forestry to develop and launch an urgent field research programme to establish the deer's range, ecology and the status of the population. It is hoped that local governments around Kerinci-Seblat National Park will also work with the national park to secure the future of Indonesia's newest large mammal.

About the Kerinci-Seblat Sumatran Tiger Protection & Conservation Team:
The team, launched in 2000 as a partnership between FFI and KSNP, focuses on protecting Sumatran tiger and tiger prey and habitat. The program works through Tiger Protection & Conservation Units comprising members of forest-edge communities, working under the leadership of national park rangers. Since its launch, the team has arrested more than 20 men on tiger poaching and trafficking charges and seized more than 16 tiger skins. All the arrests resulted in successful prosecutions. The team also regularly tackles poaching of deer and other species while working with park authorities and local NGOs to protect tiger habitat and reduce human-wildlife conflict in and around the park.

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