The smallest hoofed mammals in the world, chevrotains are in the lime light since the beginning of this week! The news that scientists spotted the silver backed chevrotains or Vietnamese mouse-deer after 30 years in the jungles of southern Vietnam is doing the rounds on media. It is said that there are 10 different species of chevrotains in the world, mostly seen in south and south east Asia, west and central parts of Africa. The silver backed ones are the most elusive, say the scientists.
My encounter with the timid, tiny mouse-deer was quite unexpected; spotted two to three of them among the dark shades of a corner in the zoological gardens. This happened a few months back. Big surprises come in small packages! I was elated at the sight of these adorable creatures that I have never seen before! It was a tough task to click a good photo as they were too shy and were startled even at the sight of birds; I somehow managed a few decent clicks. After reaching home I did some research, gathered some information about the mouse-deer.
A tiny package of a mouse, a deer, a squirrel, all in one is what the mouse-deer looked to me! They belong to Tragulidae family. Unlike deer, they don’t have antlers or four chambered stomach. They have two fangs projecting from either side of their lower jaws. These needle like fangs of the males are fiercer than that of Dracula’s, they say! They use it while fighting with their rivals.
These tiny creatures are preyed upon by many animals, including man. They are seen to lead secluded lives. The spotted chevrotains are seen in some parts of India. I realised that they are seen in Kerala too when a friend mentioned that she has seen one. In Malayalam they are given a term meaning puny; kooran or kooramaan (കൂരൻ, കൂരമാൻ). That throws light on a term of endearment my great grandmother used for my then toddler sister. Later when I grew up I used to wonder where the word ‘kooran’ derived from! She would have been referring to the dimunitive figure of my sister.
It is interesting to learn that in Indonesian and Malay folklore mouse-deer appear as tricksters. Kancil stories are popular in these regions. Sang kancil, in the folk tales and fables, is a clever mouse-deer that triumphs over stronger and bigger animals. Sang kancil’s song goes like this
“Am quick and smart as I can be
Try and try, but you can’t catch me”
Be quick and smart, little friends and thrive well!
May your tribe increase!