Chevrotains look like tiny hornless deer with small heads, tapered snouts, skinny legs, and thick bodies. From head to rump, they measure 17 to 19 inches (44 to 85 centimeters), and they weigh 4.4 to 29 pounds (2 to 13 kilograms). Their backs are rounded and somewhat higher toward their rear ends, like the backs of rats. Their ears are tiny and covered with hair, which is short and thick over their entire body. The coat is reddish brown to brown with patterns of white and brown spots and stripes on various areas, depending on the species. Males have tusk-like teeth on top, but females have small, cone-shaped canines, teeth on either side of the four front teeth with one set on each jaw. Chevrotains have three fully developed stomach chambers, which allows for efficient digestion. Each foot has four toes.
Chevrotains are found in Southeast Asia and east central Africa.
Asian chevrotains live in rainforests, lowland forests, mangrove forests, and thickets. They prefer areas with thick vegetation during the day and venture into open area at night. The vegetation provides refuge from predators. African chevrotains live in tropical rainforests and thick growth along water courses. This species escapes predators by diving into the water.
Chevrotains eat grasses and leaves, favoring young shoots, fallen fruits, and seeds. They have been seen eating small animals occasionally.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Because they are shy and come out only at night, chevrotains are difficult to study. They are easily frightened and jump at the first sign of danger. Chevrotains are loners and socialize only during mating and while rearing young. The exception to this is the lesser Malay mouse deer, which is monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus), has only one mate.
Chevrotains are territorial and mark their ranges using sounds and scent marks including feces, urine, and glandular secretions. Mouse deer bleat softly, like a lamb, when alarmed. Although they will fight, bouts are short and infrequent. Males fight with their tusk-like teeth.
Females are more active than males. All chevrotain sit on their hind legs or crouch with all legs folded to rest.
Little is known about the mating system of chevrotains. Gestation, pregnancy, lasts six to nine months and results in the birth of one offspring each year. Babies are nursed, fed with mother’s milk, until the age of three to six months and can stand on their own within an hour after birth. Chevrotains are able to mate after nine to twenty-six months, and this is when the young leave home. These animals live to an age of eleven to thirteen years. Their primary predators are large birds of prey and reptiles.
CHEVROTAINS AND PEOPLE
Regardless of where they live, chevrotains are hunted by native populations for food. Some people keep them as pets. Although some zoos have had success in breeding water chevrotains, these animals have proven difficult to breed in captivity.
All four species are threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. The water chevrotain is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Data Deficient, meaning there is not enough population information to evaluate its risk, and only one subspecies is Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.