HAVE THEY FOUND A NEW SPECIES
OF A MOUNTAIN MOUSE DEER
ENDEMIC TO SRI LANKA IN THE HORTON PLAINS?
By Walter Jayawardhana
Latest reports by a wild life 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 renown wild life 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 Place 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 report further
Meeminnas or Mouse Deers 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 a cat.
Before this , taxonomists have indicated that endemic to this region
in Sri Lanka and South India there are three varieties of Mouse Deer
live. 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
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 wet lowlands. 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 Lankas Hill Zone may prove to represent
a fourth species