In the forest that we trundle around, it is hard to imagine animals able to deal with the forest in a delicate and competent manner. The Lesser Mouse-deer (Tragulus javanicus) is, however, delicate, precise, competent and maintains these qualities whether moving fast or slow…
Also called the Lesser Oriental Chevrotain, it deserves some recognition, as it is one of the smallest ungulates in the world. As an even-toed ungulate, it is in the Order Artidactyla, along with the larger deer, buffalo, banteng and of course the bearded pig (a local individual of which is often at camp and a big ‘pet’ favourite). The tiniest deer and the beard-iest pig – what do they get up to during their lives in the Sabanagu forest?
Weighing in at only 1-2kg , it is no wonder that the Lesser Mouse-deer is usually seen jumping and scampering very fast in the opposite direction from OuTrop staff, with a distinct sense of ease. Perfectly camouflaged, perhaps surprisingly a bright white upside down ‘V’ on their throat, the very spindly legs means they run into and out of hollows and over the varied terrain without a problem. They have no horns or antlers as found in larger deer, but do have special canines. The canines in the upper jaw are elongated and used for fighting – small but mighty it seems.
Active periodically at all hours, I recently had two pleasant encounters in the forest with mouse-deer when searching for Red Langurs. The first was at about 5.15am, as me and another OuTrop member where setting out in the pitch dark. As we tried to stay on a very wet transect in the dark amongst a generally very wet patch of forest, we spotted some eye shine from a low down, small creature. From the distance from the ground, the distance between the eyes and the large eyes themselves, it was obvious a little Tragulus javanicus was watching us, the light from our head torches reflecting, creating a dramatic effect between the slender trees. The second encounter was when I was walking quickly only 3 meters away from camp. A mouse deer was walking very slowly, just to my right. It is rare to see these animals walking at their own pace as they are often either scared into a) standing dead still or b) disappearing. I was able to follow it, watching how it placed its short, even-toed legs very precisely, with great care and consideration. It took its time, making very slow progress, and when it was around 5m away from me, quickly sat down and looked about. Presumably it took a little breath, perhaps satisfied an itch, as it immediately stood and carried on the same direction, at which point I left it be.
Although this appears to be a wide ranging species, we don’t know how its population is progressing, as Tragulus javanicus is listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Redlist. This partially reflects the lack of knowledge on how many species occur on Java. There are considerable uncertainties that exist for all members of the genus, so there is great potential for incorrect identification and misunderstanding, which decreases and confuses information currently available. The Just So of this story is that little Lesser Mouse-deer are so little so that they can get around, potentially more than we know, without people (or predators) noticing – and fitting through any escape route when some one(some thing) does notice! Lets hope we will see this charismatic, beautiful and somewhat bewildering forest species for years to come!
Communications Manager , Collector of biodiversity knowledge and experience!