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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK


Leaf deer takes a bow

Leaf deer of Myanmar: Another discovery in South East Asia

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A new mammal species has been discovered in a remote mountainous region of South East Asia.

The species, known as the leaf muntjac or leaf deer, stands just 50 cm (20 inches) at the shoulder, and weighs about 12 kg. The Wildlife Conservation Society, based at the Bronx Zoo, says the animal is the world's smallest deer species.

A WCS biologist, Alan Rabinowitz, saw a specimen during field surveys in 1997 in northern Burma. He obtained further animals from local hunters and took samples to New York for DNA analysis.

The results, published in the journal Animal Conservation, confirmed the belief that the deer was a species previously unknown to science.

New discoveries

The director for conservation genetics at WCS, Dr George Amato, said: "It's a very exciting discovery".

[ image: Cambodia's forests still have secrets to give up]
Cambodia's forests still have secrets to give up
"Through DNA sequencing, we were able to determine that this particular species of muntjac was clearly distinct."

The genetic study involved collaboration between WCS and the American Museum of Natural History. WCS describes the work as "a relatively new approach to conservation biology, where molecular genetics dovetails with classic field biology".

In the last few years, several new, large mammal species have been discovered in South East Asia, especially in the Annamite mountains of Cambodia and Laos.

Disappearing habitats

But WCS says Burma remained virtually unstudied by western scientists for decades, until it began to carry out surveys five years ago.

Dr Amato said: "Perhaps the most important aspect of this discovery is that this new species of mammal was found in another region of Asia outside the Annamites".

"This highlights the importance of continuing rigorous biological surveys in relatively unstudied areas.

"The fact that wildlife, as well as the habitats themselves, is currently disappearing at an alarming rate adds a sense of urgency to such research."

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