Muntiacus gongshanensis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Cervidae

Scientific Name: Muntiacus gongshanensis Ma in Ma, Wang & Shi, 1990
Common Name(s):
English Gongshan Muntjac
Taxonomic Notes: Existing literature is inconsistent regarding the species of muntjac, additional to Northern Red Muntjac M. vaginalis, in eastern Tibet and Yunnan Province (southwestern China) and northern Myanmar, with reports of M. feae (Zhang et al. 1984, Ma et al. 1986), M. rooseveltorum (Ma et al. 1986) and M. reevesi (Groves and Grubb 1990) made. In all cases identification criteria remain equivocal and are often not stated. Ma (in Ma et al. 1990) described a new species from this region, M. gongshanensis, to which some past claims of the aforementioned other species can probably be attributed. More recently, M. crinifrons has also been said to occur in this area, which lies far from its generally accepted range (in south-east China; e.g. Lu and Sheng 1984), but this stems entirely from a decision, based upon a similarity of analysed portions of mtDNA, to consider M. gongshanensis indistinguishable from, and therefore a junior synonym of, M. crinifrons, rather than any evidence that M. crinifrons, and specifically not M. gongshanensis, is in the region. The first report was from north Myanmar (Rabinowitz et al. 1998; Amato et al. 1999b, 2000), which led to this claim that M. gongshanensis is indistinguishable from M. crinifrons; but to thereby consider the two as synonymous ignores the cautions and dangers of relying solely upon mtDNA to determine species phylogenies and identifications (see Ballard and Whitlock 2004, and references therein). Specifically, no consideration was given to possibilities that non-conspecific populations might possess very similar, perhaps identical, mtDNA, although there are several reasons why they sometimes do so (Ballard and Whitlock 2004). There are subsequent reports of muntjacs under the name 'M. crinifrons' from areas of China adjacent to north Myanmar and some way to the west (Schaller and Rabinowitz 2004, Chen et al. 2007). The identification in Chen et al. (2007) was based explicitly solely on mtDNA and M. gongshanensis may not have been considered (the name M. gongshanensis was associated with the name 'Roosevelt’s Muntjak' [sic], for which the code 'Mgon'; was used; yet no result was given anywhere for 'Mgon', nor is either species discussed); Schaller and Rabinowitz (2004) simply took M. gongshanensis as a synonym of M. crinifrons. Therefore, none of these identifications can be taken as indicative of M. crinifrons, if M. gongshanensis is considered a distinct species (as it is here).

There is no compelling evidence to treat M. gongshanensis and M. crinifrons as conspecific: the two differ substantially in morphological characters (Ma et al. 1990, Groves and Grubb 1990, R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008), reportedly also in karyotype (Huang et al. 2006) and even in mtDNA (Lan et al. 1995, Wang Wen and Lan Hong 2000). Nor, because none of the recent records from the region has explicitly identified M. crinifrons as distinct from M. gongshanensis using any of these features, is there even the most slender of reasons to consider that M. crinifrons occurs in the region in addition to M. gongshanensis. All available specimens of this sort of muntjac from Myanmar at the Natural History Museum (London; NHM) and the Field Museum (Chicago, USA; FMNH) and camera-trap photographs (WCS Myanmar Programme unpublished data) with diagnostic characters visible agree with the type material of M. gongshanensis as assessed by R.J. Timmins (pers. comm. 2008), using data on M. gongshanensis types provided by W.G. Robichaud during a visit to the Kunming Institute of Zoology (Yunnan, China) and from images of the holotype shortly after capture supplied by Lan Hong. These Myanmar records are all treated here as being of M. gongshanensis. Over most of the wider area very little camera trapping has been carried out and specimens are not available; so it cannot be excluded that additional muntjac taxa occur, potentially even perhaps M. crinifrons itself.

Several authors have listed M. feae for eastern Tibet (Xizang autonomous region) and southwestern China (Yunnan Province) (Zhang et al. 1984, Sokolov 1957, Ma et al. 1986), and Groves and Grubb (1990) grouped various specimens from this area and northern Myanmar (most likely to be M. gongshanensis on current taxonomy) with M. feae pending description of a new taxon, which they were aware was soon to be forthcoming (i.e. M. gongshanensis). The Kunming Institute of Zoology also has several specimens from this area labelled as M. feae (W.G. Robichaud in litt. to R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Although several of these records refer clearly to M. gongshanensis, some others (e.g. Zhang et al. 1984, Sokolov 1957, Wirth and Groves 1988) are probably still better treated as unidentifiable Muntiacus sp. because diagnostic details, based on the current understanding of muntjac systematics, are not available. M. feae is still, however, routinely included in the mammalian fauna of China, often without mention of M. gongshanensis (e.g. Zhang et al. 1997, Sheng et al. 1999).

Presumed NHM and FMNH specimens of M. gongshanensis from Myanmar were seemingly identified as “Chinese Muntjac” by Dollman (1932). Grubb (2005) considered the skin from Tang Me in Po Me, Tibet, described by Bailey (1914, 1915) as “M. [reevesi] lacrymans” to represent M. gongshanensis, however in view of the potential similarity of the species with other species it would be better to consider this skin of uncertain specific affinity.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-11-11
Assessor(s): Timmins, R. & Duckworth, J.W.
Reviewer(s): Brook, S.M. & McShea, W.J.
Contributor(s): Than Zaw
M. gongshanensis is listed as Data Deficient mainly because of a general lack of data on muntjac populations within the potential, but very poorly clarified, range of this species, exacerbated by the widespread confusion over its diagnostic characteristics (and even validity as a species) which hamper determination of its distribution. It could certainly be threatened, especially if it were found to have a relatively small range, but it is more likely that its range is relatively large. It remains unclear how the species responds to hunting. If it is like Northern Red Muntjac then it could sustain high levels of hunting, but there is no reason to assume either that it is so resilient or that it is not. Habitat degradation is an increasing threat throughout its range but, again, there is no information on its effects on the species. No new information of significance has been received since 2008 to change significantly the 2015 reassessment.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Muntiacus gongshanensis was described from Yunnan province, south-western China (Ma et al. 1990), within which its distribution spans the latitudinal range of about 25°–28°10′N (Ma et al. 1994). It also occurs in Kachin state, northern Myanmar: there are several specimens over the latitudinal range of 26°46′N–28°10′N in NHM and FMNH (note specimens are not catalogued under the name M. gongshanensis, R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Recent reports by Rabinowitz et al. (1998) and Amato et al. (1999b, 2000), where M. gongshanensis was considered synonymous with M. crinifrons, presumably refer to this species (Grubb 2005), although insufficient morphological characters are given to allow a firm identification. However, from the same area come many recent camera-trap photographs morphologically consistent with M. gongshanensis, specifically from Hkakaborazi National Park and Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary, which lie within the specimen-validated latitudinal range (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008, based on WCS Myanmar Programme unpublished data).

Gongshan Muntjac also probably inhabits southeastern Tibet: Chen et al. (2007) reported animals from Modog and Damu counties, close to the China, India and Myanmar border, in the range 28°33′–29°29′N, 95°20′–97°05′E. They based their identification (as M. crinifrons) solely on mtDNA and no morphological voucher seems to be available (small pieces of pelt may have been preserved), and no characters were discussed other than that the pelt was dark. Specimen-based records, again as M. crinifrons with M. gongshanensis explicitly considered a synonym, from this general area were reported by Schaller and Rabinowitz (2004), from the rivers Pailong and Yigong (30°07′N, 95°02′E) and the Modog area to the south, and from near Zayu at 29°56′N, 94°48′E, again, no morphological characters were given sufficient to allow identification to species. Inglis (1952) referred to melanistic (“very dark brown”) muntjacs, sometimes almost black, in the Darjeeling district (27°02′N, 88°16′E), one was at this time mounted in the Darjeeling museum. Whether this specimen is still extant is unclear, and no analysis more substantial seems to have been published on these animals. However recently such animals have apparently been camera-trapped in the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, Darjeeling, with speculation that they could be M. crinifrons or M. gongshanensis (Mukherjee 2013). A search of the internet revealed a number of photographs of captive ‘black’ muntjacs from the Darjeeling and adjacent Sikkim region of India, these animals are completely blackish all over including the underside of the tail, and essentially have no features in common with M. gongshanensis or M. crinifrons, it seems most probable that they are melanistic M. vaginalis (R. J. Timmins pers. comm. 2015). Unfortunately creating further confusion (as of November 2015) images of one of these presumed melanistic muntjacs from Sikkim was used to illustrate the species M. crinifrons on the website “” (R. J. Timmins pers. comm. 2015 based on information from G. Cubitt in litt. 2014).

Also in India, Johnsingh (2004) stated that Muntiacus crinifrons was discovered in Arunachal Pradesh, the actual location and basis for identification remain unpublished, but this seems more likely to refer to M. gongshanensis than to M. crinifrons (but again could also potentially refer to some other taxon such as one of the M. rooseveltorum species-complex). Likewise M. crinifrons was reported from Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh (Datta 2003), but the authors make no mention of M. gongshanensis. And apparently a new field guide to Indian mammals (Menon 2014) refers to “Gongshan Muntjac and Black Muntjac as a same species” (Aiyadurai and Meme 2015). M. gongshanensis has been reported from the Mishmi hills, Arunachal Pradesh based on skin and skull remains (Choudhury 2003, 2009, 2013), but seemingly not Pangsha village, Nagaland, as reported by Aiyadurai and Meme (2015). However, the certainty of identification is hard to verify as M. gongshanensis has morphological similarities with the M. rooseveltorum species complex (which includes M. putaoensis, also reported from North-east India), including small antlers, a photo (Choudhury 2009) of a “Leaf Muntjac” trophy arguably has more similarity with M. gongshanensis, whilst another photo  (Choudhury 2013) of purportedly of a male “M. gongshanensis” skull arguably has more similarity with an animal of the M. rooseveltorum species complex.

Camera-trapping studies in Lao PDR and Viet Nam have many images not referable to Northern Red Muntjac M. vaginalis or to Large-Antlered Muntjac M. vuquangensis. Many are certainly of the M. rooseveltorum complex of species, but given the external similarity of some specimens of the later to M. gongshanensis, some photographs may in fact be M. gongshanensis or a closely related taxon (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008, based on extensive examination of various camera-trapping programmes’ images). No certain specimen evidence has yet come to light which would support this.

In sum, if these records in Tibet, India and even Lao PDR and Viet Nam do refer to M. gongshanensis, they indicate a much wider geographic range than the so-far specimen-validated distribution in Gaoligongshan (Yunnan, China) and Kachin state (Myanmar).
Countries occurrence:
China; Myanmar
Additional data:
Lower elevation limit (metres):900
Upper elevation limit (metres):3000
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Presumed M. gongshanensis has been regularly captured by camera-trapping studies in appropriate habitat across a wide spread of sites within two protected areas in Kachin state, northern Myanmar, capture rates appear roughly equivalent for those of other muntjac species elsewhere in Myanmar and Asia, suggesting a large population which is well above criteria for threatened status (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008, based on WCS Myanmar Programme unpublished data). Moreover, substantial areas of Kachin state in the altitudinal range thought to be occupied by this species have not been surveyed by methods appropriate to find the species since the Vernay–Cutting Expedition (Anthony 1941). Overall population status depends to a significant degree on the geographic range of the taxon, which is poorly clarified at present, but could be significantly larger than has so far been documented (see Distribution). There is no empirical evidence of population trends.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Presumed M. gongshanensis has been camera-trapped between 1,250 and 2,750 m asl in Northern Myanmar (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008, based on WCS Myanmar Programme unpublished data, Than Zaw pers. comm. 2006). A paratype was collected at 3,000 m asl in northwestern Yunnan (Ma et al. 1990). Specimens in the NHM and FMNH from northern Myanmar were reportedly taken between 900 and 1,850 m asl. Wang (1998) gave the species' elevation as 2,000 m asl, in alpine broadleaf forests, coniferous forests and mixed forests, and in Tibet it occurs at 1,800–2,600 m asl. Presumed Camera-trapped animals in Myanmar have been found from subtropical forests through temperate thick mountain forests up to Himalayan alpine shrubland (Than Zaw pers. comm. 2006). It is uncertain if M. gongshanensis is widely syntopic with other muntjac species. Camera-trap results from northern Myanmar suggest that it occurs largely above the altitudinal ranges of other species there (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008, based on WCS Myanmar Programme unpublished data). No ecological separation between Gongshan and Northern Red Muntjacs in the Gaoligongshan was discussed by Ma et al. (1994), but Schaller and Rabinowitz (2004) considered that Red Muntjac generally lived at lower altitudes than presumed Gongshan Muntjac in south-east Tibet. Gongshan Muntjac’s use of degraded and fragmented forest has not been assessed.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The species is actively hunted with snares and crossbows by the local population in Myanmar for its hides and meat (Rabinowitz et al. 1998). There is an active trade involving its hides with China (Rabinowitz et al. 1998).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The major threat appears to be from hunting throughout the known range of the species. In Myanmar muntjacs including presumed Gongshan Muntjacs are hunted (non-specifically within general ungulate hunting) for meat, but also for skins which are used widely for clothing. In Hkakaborazi National Park, some hunting is by the relatively small number of permanent inhabitants of the park, who trade wildlife and plant products for basic livelihood support, such as salt. More serious are organised non-local heavily armed parties of professional poachers who enter the protected area for months at a time and hunt intensively to supply the wildlife trade. The numbers of such groups per year seem to be increasing. Hunting patterns in other areas supporting the species are not well known, but it is likely that anywhere in this region with a large population of ungulates remaining attracts heavy hunting from outsiders (Rabinowitz et al. 1998, Rabinowitz and Saw Tun Khaing 1998, Than Zaw pers. comm. 2006, J. W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2008). Heavy hunting pressure from hill tribes was reported from Yunnan Province (R. Wirth pers. comm. 1990), and although there are no current data available from China, hunting is thought to remain a major threat there. The Chinese population has been considered rare and small, and threatened by hunting (Wang 1998), but this assumes a far more limited distribution than is likely. Much of the Myanmar range is within an area which has seen remarkable stability of forest cover (Renner et al. 2007). However, this healthy situation may change in the near future, as some other forests of northern Kachin state (which have not been surveyed for the species, and so may hold, or have held, it) have recently been devastated (Eames 2007). Although habitat needs, and thus the effects of forest fragmentation and degradation are essentially unknown, it is unlikely that viable populations can survive outright forest conversion. It is also likely that in areas where forest is being fragmented, negative effects of hunting on populations of this muntjac are compounded and so populations decline, whatever intrinsic ability the species has to use fragmented areas. Protected area coverage, and retention of little-encroached habitat, is also relatively good in the Gaoligongshan of China at high altitudes (Lan and Dunbar 2000).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Animals presumed to be M. gongshanensis have been found within two large protected areas in Myanmar, Hkakaborazi National Park and Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary (Than Zaw pers. comm. 2006); other areas of suitable habitat exist outside the protected area system in Myanmar but have not been surveyed using suitable methods. Neither have tracts of potentially suitable highlands in other proposed or declared protected areas such as Hukaung Tiger Reserve and Bumphabum Wildlife Sanctuary. The protected areas of Myanmar’s ‘Northern Forest Complex’ are evolving their management and full support is needed to ensure their success. This needs to tackle the issue of professional hunting parties as an urgent priority, and hunting by local inhabitants with sensitivity. It is known from two protected areas, Nujiang and Gaoligong reserves, in China, although it is not protected as a species there (Wang 1998).

An immediate need is to dispel the confusion surrounding this species' taxonomic validity, generated through inspection of part of its mtDNA, compounding the, to date, only weak discussions of its morphological distinctiveness, and to establish and communicate the diagnostic characteristics of the species. This requires re-evaluation of the types and other specimens in China, a review of as much modern material is available in Myanmar (specimens and photographs), and analysis of specimens held in internationally-accessible institutions (most or all of which are still catalogued under other names).

An analysis of sensitivity to hunting is needed, which should focus on the relative abundance of this and other muntjac species within heavily hunted areas.

Citation: Timmins, R. & Duckworth, J.W. 2016. Muntiacus gongshanensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T13926A22160596. . Downloaded on 25 September 2018.
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