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Mouse deer breeding yields good results
The state-of-the-art breeding centre for mouse deer at Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad has emerged as a big contributor in preserving the wildlife with a successful breeding of otherwise endangered species, known as the smallest hoofed mammals in the world.
Bahadurpura: The state-of-the-art breeding centre for mouse deer at Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad has emerged as a big contributor in preserving the wildlife with a successful breeding of otherwise endangered species, known as the smallest hoofed mammals in the world.
In 2010, The Telangana Forest Department, Central Zoo Authority (CZA), Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad (NZP), and CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) have joined hands to conduct the first ever planned reintroduction of the 'Indian spotted chevrotain' (Moschiolaindica) – also known as the Indian mouse deer, into the wild, as part of the conservation breeding programme.
After seven years of conservation breeding of the elusive species at a dedicated facility on the premises of Nehru Zoological Park, the captive mouse deer population increased from 6 to about 232 till March 2019. Meanwhile, the first batch of eight individuals was released into the wild on July 17, 2018. So far, a total number of 72 individuals in eight batches were released.
With this successful growth rate, the authorities are able to release these subtle, but elusive mammals into the wild only after several months of preparation at the newly built soft-release facility in Amrabad Tiger Reserve and Kinnerasani Wildlife Sanctuary.
"Wildlife sanctuaries in India have witness a sea of changes in the last three decades and have performed several roles aimed at conserving the wildlife. Among them, the focus on conservation breeding of endangered species with scientific inputs is worth highlighting. The Indian Mouse Deer Conservation Breeding Programme is a notable example of this aspect. CZA has sponsored conservation breeding of 73 species in 140 zoos around the country. Out of these, only 3 projects have reached the soft-release phase, and among them, the release of mouse deer of Nehru Zoological Park is the most successful one, so far," said N Kshitija, the curator at The Nehru Zoological Park.
"As per the IUCN guidelines, a soft-release protocol is established and suitable areas for release were identified in the Mannanur Range of Amrabad Tiger Reserve and Chatakonda range of Kinnerasani Wildlife Sanctuary – a large expanse of deciduous forest with dense understory, a critical requirement for mouse deer survival.
The Soft-release facility was set up with three compartments of varying dimensions and compositions to reflect the staggered conditioning regime recommended for the release of captive-bred mouse deer into the wild. The three stages, viz., stabilization, acclimatization and pre-release are being taken up simultaneously," she added.
Each batch would spend at least two weeks in each stage before proceeding to the next stage. The reintroduction programme includes continuous monitoring of the released populations through camera trap surveys and molecular identification in order to evaluate the establishment success and to inform future decisions.
Mouse deer belong to the basal ruminant family, Tragulidae. Since these small mammals (tragulids) occupy important ecological roles as seed dispersers by consuming fallen fruits and as prey for several small and large carnivores like martens, wild dogs, leopards, tigers and large birds, their presence in native forest ecosystem is essential, the curator explained.
Under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, the mouse deer is accorded Schedule – I status, giving it maximum protection. Historically, it was present throughout the deciduous and evergreen forests of the Indian subcontinent, but extensive habitat degradation, especially of the forest understory, and hunting for bust meat, has significantly reduced its population size with local extinctions reported from several places.
Despite its widespread distribution, its inherently low population density makes it highly vulnerable to the aforementioned threats. However, recent measures have reduced the threat of hunting in many areas making them conducive for re-establishment of the species. The successful conservation breeding of mouse deer and their soft-release into the wild is yet another feather in the cap for the Nehru Zoological Park.