In Laos, a rare deer is discovered alive and well, despite war and over-hunting

An isolated population of an unusual deer species known for its unique antlers has turned up in northern Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, surprising a team of scientists from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the Smithsonian National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center, who thought that it had succumbed to over-hunting.

Known as Eld's deer, the species has already vanished from neighboring Thailand and Cambodia, but still persists in very low numbers in Myanmar and southern Laos. In some areas, it is believed to have fed the Khmer Rouge army during Cambodia's civil war.

Eld's deer have reddish brown coats, and are about the size of white-tailed deer, but their antlers are remarkably different. Occurring seasonally on males, the antlers sweep from front to back in one continuous curve.

Ironically, the newly discovered population lives close to a series of isolated villages, whose inhabitants have largely refrained from hunting the deer, which have been legally protected since 1995 under a sweeping wildlife conservation law.

"This is an exciting discovery both for science and the people of Laos," said Dr. Arlyne Johnson of WCS's Lao Program. "Now that we know that Eld's deer persists, we must ensure that it survives."

The region where the deer lives consists of large expanses of lowland habitat including areas of dry forest, patches of evergreens, lowland streams and seasonal pools. It supports an assemblage of other rare and unusual species such as Asiatic jackal, silver langur, barking deer, wild pig, and other animals, many of which have been extirpated from other areas of Laos due to overhunting.

Working with local partners in Laos, WCS and the Smithsonian are recommending the establishment of a "National Eld's Deer Sanctuary" to protect the newly discovered population, as well as a public awareness campaign to build local understanding about the significance of the deer and its habitat.

Contact: John Delaney
Wildlife Conservation Society

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