March 9, 2018
Is it a Mouse? Is it a Deer?
- as seen by -Anne Rivas
No, it’s a chevrotain!
The greater chevrotain (Tragulus napu), or mouse deer, is easy to overlook. Weighing in at just 5-10 lbs, these small, deer-like mammals are some of the smallest ungulates—hoofed mammals—in the world. Originally from tropical forests and mangrove groves of Southeast Asia, they are on exhibit in Jungle World at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo. These small wonders are one of my favorite animals to work with here due to their unique anatomy, as well as their big personalities.
Chevrotain are not truly deer, but belong to their own family: Tragulidae. They are considered an evolutionary stepping stone between monogastrics, animals with a simple stomach like pigs and dogs, and ruminants, animals like cows and deer with a four-chambered stomach. As a result, their anatomy is best described as a blend between pigs and deer. Like deer, they have a four-chambered stomach, though one chamber is very small and not as developed as in more evolved ruminants. Like pigs, they have long, tusk-like canine teeth. They have four toes on their feet like a pig, whereas deer only have two toes. As a veterinarian, I also find them exceptional for having the smallest red blood cells of any mammal. This makes it more challenging to work with their blood when running diagnostic tests or storing it for future transfusions.
Although they are mostly silent, young chevrotain will make soft, bird-like calls to alert their mothers when they are hungry. For some of the chevrotain that have been hand-raised here at the zoo (above), they will also make that call to their human caregivers when asking for their favorite treats of carrot or banana peel.