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Facts About the Balabac Mouse Deer

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Facts about the endemic mouse deer of Balabac Island in the Philippines.

The once abundant population of the Balabac mouse deer, known by its familiar local name pilandok, is a major protein source for the native groups of people called Molbog before droves of migrants came into Balabac Island at the southern end of Palawan Island in southwestern Philippines. The mouse deer is generally shy so it normally takes refuge in burrows dug under trees in the ecotone bounding the beach and the forest areas. The Molbog say that the burrows also serve as favorite habitats to pythons, which appear to live in harmony with the mouse deer. The python and the mouse deer exhibit mutualism because locals observed that once a mouse deer is hunted with the aid of dogs, and when the mouse deer takes refuge in its hole, the python lies in wait to prey not on the mouse deer but on the dogs.

Taxonomy

The small mouse deer of Balabac is known in literature as chevrotain. The chevrotain does not have in any way a semblance to the deer family Cervidae but a separate Chevrotain family for groups of mammals that in French literally means “little goat”. They are more related to goats than deer.

Morphology

The mouse deer are like goats without horns with small canines oriented sideways. Their premolars are adapted for cutting plant material. They have horizontally-oriented pupil instead of the usual vertical slit for nocturnal activities. The body is generally covered with brown fur, with blotches of dark-brown and white bands at the throat. The ears stand erect where the inner part is white.

The mouse deer with its favorite fig tree food at the background.

Food Habits

Balabac mouse deer are ruminants. Ruminant are mammals that feed on plant-based food. After grazing and chewing their food, ruminants soften the bolus in the rumen, the first compartment of its stomach. After a while, the semi-digested cud is regurgitated, chewed again then finally ingested.

The favorite food of the mouse deer are figs, locally known as tubog and commonly found lining the beach areas of Balabac. Aside from this, the mouse deer also feeds on fruits that fall on the ground, leaves of small trees, and grasses.

Habitat

The mouse deer inhabits the forested portions of Balabac Island but can be found trotting the seashore to find its favorite food, the fig tree locally known as tubog. This is the reason why the mouse deer, such as the one featured above, is usually captured along the beach. The mouse deer is known to occur in the dense, shaded areas of primary as well as secondary forests during the day to avoid detection. At night, the mouse deer are easily detected along pathways bounded by thick forests because their eyes easily reflect light.

Population Status

Since the Balabac mouse deer is endemic to the island of Balabac, its population is reduced significantly due to hunting for food. The locals found the mouse deer’s meat delicious when cooked with “ogsom”, a local spice that removes the characteristic meat odor. Now, the population of the mouse deer is classified under endangered status.

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lucia anna
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Patrick Regoniel
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deepblue
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Patrick Regoniel

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