Deer species thought to have gone extinct in the 1930s may still be alive. The wild population of Schomburgk’s deer was believed to be hunted to extinction by humans in 1932, with the last known member of the species dying in captivity six years later.
But now, researchers from Northwestern University have confirmed that “fresh” antlers found by a trucker in Laos in 1991 belonged to a Schomburgk’s deer – more than a half-century after the species was declared extinct.
This species was native to Thailand, and researchers believe that a small population of these deer lived in a remote area of central Laos in the past. Given this discovery, it’s possible that they could still be living there today.
The study – published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society – details how a trucker gave the antlers to a shop in the northern Laos province of Phongsali after finding them in 1991. United Nations agronomist Laurent Chazee happened to photograph those antlers in February of that year.
Researcher Gary Galbreath, a professor of biological sciences at Northwestern University, analyzed these photos along with his collaborator GB Schroering. The pair posits that based on the basket-shaped, wide-spread and hyper-branched structure of the antlers, they must have come from a Schomburgk’s deer. According to the researchers, other Asian deer’s antlers do not have this distinct shape.
The research team also confirmed that the presence of dark red to reddish-brown dried blood on the antlers when they were photographed makes it highly likely that they were fresh when they were documented.
“The relative antiquity of the antler specimens can be assessed by the materials such as dried marrow, still adhering to them,” explains Galbreath. “Even the blood was still reddish. It would become black with increased age. In the tropics, the antlers would not continue to look this way even within a matter of months.”
While this study indicates that this deer species that was once believed to be extinct could still be hanging around Thailand, a living member of the species has still not been seen since 1938.
Image Credit: Northwestern University