A husband and wife were taking in the sights at the Bristol Zoo Gardens when they came upon a tiny creature that stood about eight inches tall, had round dark button eyes, and delicate shell-pink pointed ears.
“Is that a mouse, dear?” asked the wife.
“No,” the husband answered, “it’s a mouse deer.”
While this conversation can’t be reported as verbatim, it could well have taken place because mother mouse deer Brienne and proud papa mouse deer Jorah welcomed a new addition to their family a little over a month ago.
Proving the adage that good things come in small packages, the bouncing baby lesser Malaysian mouse deer fawn is the height of a standard pencil.
It’s only the second of its species to be born at the Bristol Zoo in the past 10 years. (Its predecessor, a female named Missandei was sent to the Ouwehands Zoo in the Netherlands to participate in the breeding program there.)
Native to southeast Asia, mouse deer, also known as chevrotains, are the smallest hoofed mammals in the world. While diminutive (fully grown, a lesser Malayan mouse deer will weigh only about three pounds), the Bambis are classed as even-toed ungulates, which puts them in the same category as pigs, sheep, giraffe, camels, and hippos.
Brienne and Jorah’s offspring remains unnamed at present, as its gender has yet to be determined. Bristol Zoo’s senior mammal keeper Paige Bwye explains that because mouse deer are so small and shy it’s difficult to make the call.
According to Tim Rowlands, Hoofstock Team Leader at the Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, the tiny family’s hide-and-seek behavior isn’t unusual. “All deer species will hide their young until they are older, so they will only really come out to feed then hide again,” he told the BBC.
Rowlands speaks from experience. Earlier this year, another mouse deer baby—a 13-ounce Javan chevrotain—was delivered to parents Gus and Gwen at Marwell’s Tropical House habitat.
“There are very few zoos who care for any of the mouse deer species as they are so small in size, very secretive, and nocturnal, so any youngster born is great news for the conservation breeding program,” Rowlands said. “It’s vitally important that we work to ensure these wonderful animals do not disappear for good.”
Bwye reports that Mama B. and ‘Baby Doe’ are thriving. “Brienne is being a fantastic first-time mother and has been very attentive to her infant,” Bwye noted. “It’s doing really well… and has recently started to discover new tastes, such as sweet potato.”
And what could be more ‘fawntastic’ than that?