New species of mountain mouse deer in Horton Plains?
COLOMBO: Reports by a wildlife photographer and a naturalist indicate
that they may have either discovered a very rare new species or a sub
species of a mountain mouse deer, known as Meeminna in Sinhalese,
endemic to Sri Lanka.
The renowned wildlife photographer and specialist Gehan de Silva
Wijeyratne and naturalist Nadeera Weerasinghe have for the first time
encountered the alleged new species of the mammal in the Horton Plains
National Park, the report said.
After the encounter the mouse deer was captured temporarily,
photographed and its blood tested for DNA, before being released, the
Meeminnas or mouse deer are the smallest variety of deer found both
in wet and dry zone forests in Sri Lanka and is a miniature variety
without the antlers of its more common cousins, and slightly bigger than
Before this, taxonomists have indicated that endemic to this region
in Sri Lanka and South India there are three varieties of mouse deer
Out of the three, two are endemic to Sri Lanka. If the alleged find
is conclusively accepted as a new species or a sub-species by the
taxonomists, the scientific community, who classify living beings into
groups, it would be the third kind of mouse deer found in Sri Lanka.
British taxonomist Colin Groves said in a paper published in June
2005 in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology that three varieties of mouse
deer lived in the South Asian region. The Indian mouse deer Moschiola
Indica is endemic to the Eastern Ghats of India.
In Sri Lanka, the report said two varieties of Mouse Deer live. The
White Spotted mouse deer Moschiola meeminna live in the dry zone and the
Yellow Striped mouse deer Moschiola Kathygre live in the wet zone of Sri
Lanka. Both species are endemic to Sri Lanka.
Both species raised the number of endemic mammals found in Sri Lanka
to 18. The new species was encountered, the report said, while the
photographer and naturalist were training Horton Plains National Park
staffers in butterflies and dragon flies in February 2008.
The animal was discovered accidentally and in quite dramatic
circumstances. Chased by a brown mongoose, third of its size, the
alleged new species jumped into the water of a pond.
The report described how it was captured: “The mouse deer swam back
to the far shore and faced off with the mongoose. The mongoose did not
enter the water but at times approached within five to six feet of the
mouse-deer which responded by flaring its throat and showing the white
on its throat.
After fifteen minutes the mongoose seemed to tire of the chase and
left. The mouse deer left but returned soon with the mongoose in pursuit
and once again dived into the pond.
Forty five minutes later the duo left and Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
and Nadeera Weerasinghe informed the park warden. Around 5 pm the mouse
deer was seen again by the park warden and his staff. Later around 6pm
it was taken in for safe custody, and offered no resistance. It had a
small gash near the ear and was in an exhausted state.”
The report further said: “Given the significance of the live
specimen, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne informed several scientists of the
mouse deer being temporarily held captive. Two scientists took a blood
sample for analysis.
Dr Tharaka Prasad the Deputy Director (Veterinary) of the Department
of Wildlife Conservation and Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando who has worked on
conservation genetics of elephants and other mammals, examined the mouse
deer, which was released back into the wild later that day.
The mouse deer was found to be a pregnant female and measured 56 cm
in length. This places it at the upper end of all specimens of mouse
deer which have been measured.”
But the report did not rush to conclude whether the live specie they
found was a new one or not. The report further said: “The newly split
wet zone species is bigger than the species in the dry zone. It is too
early to establish whether the mountain mouse deer is a separate species
or a sub-species of the wet zone Yellow-striped mouse deer. It may even
transpire that it has no distinct differences from the form found in the
More work may need to be done to resolve the taxonomic questions by
examining DNA from other specimens from the wet and dry zones. Ideally
more measurements should also be taken in the field through a small
mammal trapping survey in the field.” But the British taxonomist Colin
Groves had already stated that ‘a single skull from Sri Lanka’s Hill
Zone may prove to represent a fourth species’.