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Muntiacus vaginalis

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA CETARTIODACTYLA CERVIDAE

Scientific Name: Muntiacus vaginalis
Species Authority: (Boddaert, 1785)
Common Name(s):
English Northern Red Muntjac, Indian Red Muntjac, Indian Muntjac, Barking Deer
Synonym(s):
Cervus melas Ogilby, 1839
Cervus moschatus H. Smith, 1827
Cervus ratwa Hodgson, 1833
Cervus stylocerus Schinz, 1844
Cervus vaginalis Boddaert, 1785
Prox ratva Sundevall, 1846
Stylocerus muntjac Cantor, 1846
Stylocerus muntjacus Kelaart, 1852
Taxonomic Notes: Groves (2003) elected to raise non-Sundaic forms of M. muntjak (s.l.) from subspecific taxa to the species M. vaginalis, leaving the Sundaic forms to constitute M. muntjak (s.s.). This position, already postulated by previous authors (e.g. Groves and Grubb 1990), rests on little evidence, primarily the assumption that all taxa within M. muntjak in the Sunda region carry a unique karyotype different from all M. vaginalis in northern regions. However, the Sundaic karyotype seems to have been documented in only a few individuals from the Malay Peninsula south of the Isthmus of Kra (Wurster and Aitkin 1972; Groves and Grubb 1990; Groves 2003; Tanomtong et al. 2005), assumed to be M. muntjak (the type locality of the later is Java). Other purported differences (e.g. dorsal darkening and short nasals, Groves 2003, Groves and Grubb 1990), if they can be considered diagnostic characters rather than traits, appear minor rather than ones likely to separate species-level taxa. Although differences in chromosome number between muntjacs appears likely to constitute a good species boundary, preventing extensive interbreeding (see Groves and Grubb 1990), a much wider sampling of karyotype (especially within the presumed range of M. muntjak (s.s.)) is needed to place on solid ground the systematic position which assumes separate and widespread ranges for the two so far identified karyotypes.

Groves (2003) and other authors (e.g., P.M. Giao et al. 1998) have suggested that northern forms here placed within M. vaginalis may constitute more than one species, pointing out especially that the dark-legged Chinese and Indochinese animals, which differ from paler, more uniform, animals to the south and west (for details, see C.P. Groves in litt.. 1999 to Duckworth et al. 1999). However, recent data (especially the results of camera-trapping studies) from Indochina suggest that pelage colour and pattern variation is little more than a geographically based polymorphism within a widespread species, and might not warrant even use in designation of subspecific taxa (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008, based on unpublished data from various camera-trapping projects by WWF/WCS/FFI/SFNC/IUCN). There are certainly no grounds from field studies to suggest that more than one species-level taxon is present in Indochina (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008).

Because objective morphological grounds to allow confident separation of the two species M. muntjak and M. vaginalis are not yet validated, because published sources and opinion in the region universally treat the two as conspecific, and because surveys have not systematically been examining the chromosomes of muntjacs, for the purposes of this red list assessment, each species' range and status have been assessed taking an assumption that the Isthmus of Kra forms the boundary between the two. This follows the assessment of Groves and Grubb (1990), based on rather few specimens, which segregated animals primarily on the basis of pelage and nasal characters; these authors noted the presence of specimens from two localities just south of the Isthmus of Kra which were somewhat atypical from presumed M. muntjak specimens further south. Many other vertebrates have diagnosable Sunda and northern members, but the range boundary between them can occur anywhere over a relatively wide latitudinal zone (e.g. Hughes et al. 2003), and outlier populations of one or the other taxon can occur within the range of its sister. During this review, a number of sources indicated that Red Muntjac was being identified by vocalisation, even in areas where congeners were known or likely to occur. There is no available information on vocal characters of other muntjacs, and how to distinguish different muntjacs by voice, or even whether this is possible. Therefore, such identifications were taken as only indicating the genus.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Timmins, R.J., Duckworth, J.W., Pattanavibool, A., Steinmetz, R., Samba Kumar, N., Anwarul Islam, Md. & Sagar Baral, H.
Reviewer(s): Black, P.A. & Gonzalez, S. (Deer Red List Authority)
Justification:
Northern Red Muntjac are still widespread and common in much of South and South-east Asia, occur in many protected areas, and are resilient to habitat change and hunting. Populations in Pakistan and Bangladesh appear to be severely reduced, however. It is subject to intense trade-driven hunting in parts its geographic range (particularly east of the Mekong) which are resulting in densities well below carrying capacity. There are thus regional variations in population trend. East of the Mekong declines might exceed 30% in the last three generations (10–15 years) and can be confidently expected to do so in the next three generations (reflecting major habitat fragmentation in process which compounds the effects of hunting), but this is less than 30% of the species' geographic range: the large range in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, and Thailand, and enormous total population of these countries in only shallow decline, mean that the global population is unlikely to be declining overall at rates sufficient to warrant listing as even Near Threatened.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species occurs in Sri Lanka, most of India, northern Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and southern China, including Hainan and southern Tibet, and into southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Viet Nam, Cambodia) south to the northern part of the Thai–Malay peninsula (Roberts 1977; Groves and Grubb 1990; Ohtaishi and Gao 1990; Corbet and Hill 1992; Wang Ying-xiang 2002; Groves 2003; Grubb 2005). The precise southern range limit remains unclear on the Thai–Malay peninsula (see Taxonomy). It has been introduced in the Andaman Islands (Corbet and Hill 1992). It is widespread in most range states, except Pakistan (see Population).
Countries:
Native:
Bangladesh; Bhutan; Cambodia; China; Hong Kong; India; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Myanmar; Nepal; Pakistan; Sri Lanka; Thailand; Viet Nam
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: This adaptable and widespread species remains locally common in most of its range (e.g. Whitehead 1993; Le Xuan Canh et al. 1997; Timmins et al. 1998; Duckworth et al. 1999; Lynam et al. 2001; Lynam 2003; Johnsingh et al. 2004; Polet and Ling 2004; Johnson et al. 2006; Steinmetz et al. 2008), even in Hong Kong, an almost totally deforested landscape which has in the past sustained hunting and habitat disruption heavy enough to force extinction even of squirrels (R. Corlett pers. comm. 2008). About 20–30 individuals were estimated by Roberts (1977, based on a 1972 estimate) for Margalla National Park in northern Pakistan; this would account for most of the population surviving in that country at the time. It appears to be increasingly rare in Bangladesh, with only a small population left in the Sundarbans and a few in the northeast and southeast of the country (Md Anwarul Islam in litt. 2008); this reflects “rampant...forest destruction” during the British colonial era which was, if anything, even worse after independence (Khan 2003). Even so, muntjacs (assumed to be this species) can still be seen readily in the north-east (P.M. Thompson pers. comm. 2008). Sheng and Ohtaishi (1993) stated that the total Chinese population is about 500,000, although the assumptions behind such a number were not explicit. Ohtaishi and Gao (1990) estimated that a total of 30,000 individuals were harvested each year on Hainan Island alone. In mainland China, Red Muntjac are notably scarcer than in Hong Kong, based on encounter rates of calls, faeces and camera-trap photographs; this is attributed by rural hunters to recent very heavy hunting with gin-traps precipitated by a fire-arm ban (B.P.L. Chan and M.W.N. Lau pers. comm. 2008). Populations are certainly also declining in Lao PDR and Viet Nam, and probably to a lesser extent, Cambodia and Thailand through heavy trade-driven hunting (see threats). Populations in Nepal are thought to be relatively stable (Hem Sagar Baral pers. comm. 2008). Red Muntjacs are common in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand (Ngoprasert et al. 2007), but this is within the main transition zone between Sundaic and northern taxa, so the species there is/are unknown. The following densities have been estimated in India: Bhadra Tiger Reserve, 3.64 +/- 0.63 (SE) per km² (Jathanna et al. 2003); Kanha moist deciduous forest, 0.6 animals per km² (Karanth and Nichols 2000); Nagarahole moist deciduous forest, 6 animals per km² (Karanth and Nichols 2000); Bandipur dry deciduous forest, 0.7 animals per km² (Karanth and Nichols 2000); Tadoba-Andhari dry deciduous forest, 0.9 animals per km² (Karanth and Kumar 2005); Melghat dry deciduous forest, 0.6 animals per km² (Karanth and Kumar 2005); Wilpattu, Sri Lanka, 2.5 animals per km² (Barrette 1977); Karnali-Bardia, Nepal, 1.7 animals per km² (Dinerstein 1987); and Rajaji National Park, 1 animal per km² (A.J.T. Johnsingh pers. comm. to Barrette 2004). Where studied, population densities are always well below those of herding ungulates (previous citations), but this is not so in areas where hunting has perverted ratios, where Red Muntjac may even be the only deer species remaining.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The Northern Red Muntjac inhabits a wide variety of forests and scrub, including level plains and rugged mountains, dense and open forests, evergreen and deciduous areas, old-growth and secondary forests, and even grass- and cropland near woody habitats; from sea-level commonly up to about 1,500 m asl and occasionally over, perhaps with some variation regionally (Blanford 1891; Prater 1971; Barrette 1977, 2004; Lekagul and McNeely 1977; Roberts 1977; Timmins et al. 1998; Duckworth et al. 1999; Teng et al. 2004). Within this broad habitat use, densities doubtless vary based on conditions. Steinmetz et al. (2008) found that signs, and presumably animals, were significantly more common in lower- than higher-lying areas of the Tenasserim–Dawna mountains, Thailand, noting that this was the opposite of the patterns that would be predicted if hunting (itself concentrated heavily in the lowlands) was the chief determinant of population densities. Kushwaha et al. (2004) found that in Kumaon Himalaya (India), M. vaginalis frequently exploits grass- and herb-dominated environments, linked to highly logged locations, and with a preference for lower altitudes (although they did not specify what altitude range was covered, nor discuss the possibility that because logging tends to occur in valley bottoms and lower hills rather than on steep hills and ridges, a preference for lower altitudes could simply be a consequential effect of a preference for logged areas. Teng et al. (2004) found that in Hainan, muntjacs preferred shrub grassland and thorny shrubland; used dry savanna in proportion to its availability; and avoided woods, cultivated grass-plot, and deciduous monsoon forests. Sheng and Ohtaishi (1993) attributed the apparent stability in numbers of the Chinese population to logging activities, which were bringing about an increase of secondary forest and scrub dominated areas. A study of coffee estates around Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, India, recorded Red Muntjac more widely than any other herbivorous mammal, including in coffee areas far from the sanctuary’s boundary (Bali et al. 2007).

Its diet is based on fallen fruits, buds, small seeds, twigs, seed pods, tender leaves, and young grass (Barrette 1977, 2004; Lekagul and McNeely 1977; Roberts 1977; Chen et al. 2001; Teng et al. 2004). The species has been cited as a major dispersal agent of fruit-producing plants in southern China (Chen et al. 2001) and Thailand (Lekagul and McNeely 1977) and this is presumably so throughout its range.

In much of its range (although rather less than was popularly supposed until recently) this is the only muntjac species. Where congeners occur, it is widely sympatric, evidently even syntopic, with them; there is no solid evidence for competitive exclusion except perhaps at very high altitudes. Where it overlaps with Fea’s Muntjac M. feae in Thailand, Red clearly predominates in more deciduous habitats and lower altitudes, with Fea’s apparently more common in high altitudes and fully evergreen forest (R. Steinmetz pers. comm. 2008). It probably occurs throughout the range of Large-antlered Muntjac M. vuquangensis (e.g. Timmins et al. 1998). There is extensive overlap with muntjacs of the M. rooseveltorum species-complex (M. rooseveltorum, M. truongsonensis, M. puhoatensis and M. putaoensis), but there may be areas above about 1,500 m asl where the latter greatly outnumber M. vaginalis and some where M. vaginalis is absent (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008, based on examination of numerous camera-trap photographs from many camera-trap programmes). Camera-trap results from northern Myanmar suggest that Red Muntjac occurs largely below the altitudinal range of M. gongshanensis, but fully through the range of M. putaoensis (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008 based on WCS unpublished data). Schaller and Rabinowitz (2004), however, reported many M. vaginalis at high altitudes in Arunachal Pradesh, with one direct sighting at 3,000 m asl near Tawang, and there may therefore be significant local variation in the upper altitudinal limit. Two specimens in the Natural History Museum, London from Nepal have recorded altitudes of 11,400 and 8,500 feet (3,450 and 2,590 m asl) (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008).

Northern Red Muntjac appears to be able to breed all year around, although the existence of well-defined breeding seasons has been suggested for some populations, particularly in those inhabiting locations with a more seasonal climate (Barrette 1977; Lekagul and McNeely 1977; Roberts 1977; Chen et al. 2001). In any case, "peaks" of mating activity are present, at least, in some areas (Prater 1971; Barrette 1977; Roberts 1977). Despite only a single fawn being born each occasion, overall lifetime output is high (Barrette 2004). Even where births occur throughout the year, there is still a fairly rigid cycle of antler formation and shedding, synchronised at the population level (Barrette 1977; Mishra 1982; Acharjyo and Patnaik 1984). It tends to be solitary (Eisenberg and Lockhart 1972; Seidensticker 1976; Karanth and Sunquist 1992; Barrette 2004); reports of small groups could be attributed to mating pairs or to female/offspring units, or to temporary incidental proximity of individuals at concentrations of high-value food, e.g. fallen fruit under a tree (Barrette 1977, 2004; Lekagul and McNeely 1977). Individuals seem strongly attached to a certain home range, but there is no convincing evidence of territoriality (Barrette 1977, 2004). Northern Red Muntjac is diurnal in some areas, nocturnal in others (Prater 1971; Barrette 1977; Lekagul and McNeely 1977; Roberts 1977) and is probably best regarded as crepuscular. It is an important prey for Leopard Panthera pardus, Tiger P. tigris, and Dhole Cuon alpinus.
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is widely traded and hunted in China and Southeast Asian countries. China appears to be a major consumer and producer of Muntiacus vaginalis products. There is an intense commercial activity of this species from bordering Southeast Asian countries into China which involves meat, hides and medicinal products. (Ohtaishi and Gao 1990, Sheng and Ohtaishi 1993, Zhijun et al. 1996, Duckworth et al. 1999, see also other references in General Information section).
It is not usually kept as livestock.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Northern Red Muntjac are hunted widely, both legally and illegally, over most of its range (Sheng and Ohtaishi 1993; Madhusudan and Karanth 2002; Tungittiplakorn and Dearden 2002; Jathanna et al. 2003; Johnson et al. 2003; Santiapillai and Wijeyamohan 2003; Hansel 2004; Kaul et al. 2004; Kumara and Singh 2004; Rao et al. 2005; Steinmetz et al. 2008), and it is probably among of the most used and most desired wild meats in South and South-east Asia (e.g. Srikosamatara et al. 1992; Duckworth et al. 1999). Patterns of threat vary across the species' range. Viet Nam, Lao PDR and to a lesser extent Cambodia and northern Thailand are apparently the areas where mammal hunting is heaviest. In its mainland China range, rates may be even higher, because a recent fire-arm ban is said to have pushed up levels of gin-trapping (B.P.L. Chan pers. comm. 2008). Muntjacs are hunted within a thriving hunting and wildlife trading culture in this area and in adjacent countries such as China and Thailand, involving many land vertebrate species, along with other forest products such as orchids and Aquilaria resin (e.g. Compton and Le Hai Quang 1998; Compton et al. 1999; Noreen and Claridge 2001). Such hunting reaches all areas, although in large rugged mountain forest blocks trade-driven hunting of species valued only for their meat (rather than high-value, low-weight, generally medicinal products that can be carried out efficiently from even the remotest areas) is still limited by economics of accessibility. The regional wild meat trade has little likelihood of abating as long as there are any pigs, muntjacs, and civets to be hunted. The human population of Viet Nam is more than 70 million, that of China more than 1,000 million. Together, they comprise an enormous market for wildlife products. For example, tens of millions of wild turtles are imported, legally and illegally, into China annually (van Dijk et al. 2000). There has been no comparable study of ungulate trade levels. Within the Northern and Central Annamites, every square kilometre of Viet Namese forest and of Lao forest that is within 5 km of the Viet Namese border probably has snares capable of capturing muntjacs set in it every year (Timmins et al. 2007; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Intensity in some areas probably reaches many thousands of snare-nights per square kilometre per year (Timmins et al. 2007). Snaring is less intensive in Lao PDR at least away from the Viet Namese border, but is increasing dramatically (Timmins and Robichaud 2005; W.G. Robichaud pers. comm. to R.J. Timmins 2007). Hunting intensity has in recent decades been generally lower in southern Viet Nam than in Lao PDR and northern Viet Nam, leaving many wildlife populations less depleted (e.g. Le Xuan Canh et al. 1997; Timmins and Duckworth 2000; Polet and Ling 2004), but the general increase in regional hunting intensity and economic wealth indicate that hunting intensity in this region must also be increasing. When muntjacs become rare, the animals are hunted in group drives; the meat is often sold (Tungittiplakorn and Dearden 2002).

Closed tropical evergreen forests have inherently low ungulate biomass (Robinson and Bennett 2000), and beyond this populations of all wild animals larger than 20 kg in Indochina have been significantly reduced by human exploitation (Timmins and Ou 2001; Timmins et al. 2007; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). Field survey encounter rates with Northern Red Muntjacs in Lao PDR, Viet Nam, and Cambodia are remarkably low compared with other areas in its range (Timmins and Ou 2001; Timmins et al. 2007; R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008). In a recent reconnaissance survey of highly fragmented habitat in southern Lao PDR (Pathoumphon district, Champasak province), outside the protected area system, muntjac were the only ungulates (assumed to relate to this species on habitat and distribution) for which signs were commonly found, even wild pigs Sus sp(p). being noticeably more scarce (K. Khounboline and J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2008). This pattern is general throughout Lao PDR (K. Khounboline pers. comm. 2008). However, areas of heavy hunting have lost muntjacs or had them reduced to extreme rarity, not only forest isolates such as Houay Nhang (a few square kilometres,, just outside Vientiane; Duckworth et al. 1994) but also, where hunting has been extremely heavy, less fragmented landscapes (such as the western lowlands of Xe Bang-Nouan National Protected Area in south Lao PDR; J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2008). In such areas, even though forest within them is in general heavily degraded, habitat is unlikely to be the prime cause of decline, because in some other areas of long-standing forest devastation now dominated by a mix of secondary ruderals, shrubs and grasses, muntjacs are still relatively common, e.g. Phongsali (far northern Lao PDR), where they can even still be heard from the provincial capital town (Duckworth and Robichaud 2005). Similarly, Red Muntjac is common and widespread in Hong Kong, an almost deforested landscape (Chek 2006; R. Corlett pers. comm. 2008), and studies in Hainan indicated selection of openings and other edge habitats rather than forest interiors (Teng et al. 2004); this seems generally true throughout South-east Asia (R.J. Timmins and J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2008). There is also evidence from elsewhere in its range that this species is better able than most ungulates to withstand a certain degree of continuous harvesting as well as habitat disturbance (Jathanna et al 2003), although this has rarely been based on quantified status assessment. In Nagarahole National Park, India, Madhusudan and Karanth (2002) found no difference in muntjac abundance between a heavily hunted and a lightly hunted site, compared with enormous differences for most other ungulates. In the context of Indochina, even their heavily-hunted site would, however, rank as lightly hunted (J.W. Duckworth pers. comm. 2008, from based on visit and discussion). Madhusudan and Karanth (2002) cautioned against assuming that these results indicated an intrinsic resilience to hunting by this muntjac: it is not so readily hunted as, for example, Chital Axis axis, because of its solitary nature, affinity for dense cover and therefore risks of getting caught are higher when using appropriate techniques to kill or capture it. However, the ubiquitous disparity in status between M. vaginalis and other ungulates (and indeed almost all other mammals of similar or larger body weight) in Indochina indicates that it is truly much more resilient to hunting. An intensive study of hunting on mammals in two Hmong villages of northern Thailand classified quarry species into tiers representing the sequence of loss through overhunting; muntjacs (most or all were presumably M. vaginalis) fell in the fifth tier, persisting much longer than all other ruminants and with only species like squirrels, civets, and linsangs being placed later in the extinction sequence (Tungittiplakorn and Dearden 2002). Even so, villagers reported that muntjacs were greatly reduced in numbers in the area. The strongest demonstration of its remarkable resilience is that it is now common and widespread in Hong Kong, an almost deforested landscape which has in the past sustained hunting and habitat disruption heavy enough to force extinction even of squirrels. Red Muntjac were reduced to very low populations a few decades ago, but did not become extinct, and has increased rapidly in recent years (Chek 2006; R. Corlett pers. comm. 2008).

While wild meat is the major driver of South-east Asian muntjac trade, parts such as antlers are also heavily traded (e.g. Duckworth et al. 1999, Noreen and Claridge 2001).

Rapid economic development and expanding wealth in the species' range, particularly South-east Asia and China, are increasing the demand for wildlife meat and ‘medicines’ (Timmins et al. 2007). Timmins et al. (2007) highlighted a common misconception, especially in documentation of development projects in the region, that poverty is a principal cause of biodiversity loss, but as they pointed out for Saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, the main driver of threats to wild ungulates, at least for the mid-term, is not rural poverty but increasing urban wealth in Indochina and China. In Viet Nam “the free market economy has resulted in feverish periods of trade in wild species nationwide, with negative impacts on biodiversity” (Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam 2004). In Cambodia, the same factor has fostered a thriving bushmeat market and hunting of species for international wildlife trade (Timmins and Ou 2001; Maxwell et al. 2006; Timmins 2006). There is a rapid, ongoing, expansion of wealthy social strata in Lao PDR, directly accelerated by illegal trade in rosewood, wild meat, and other forest resources, and by the economics of large infrastructure projects (e.g. Nan Theun 2 hydro-electric power project), creating a significantly greater in-country demand for luxury meats such as venison (W.G. Robichaud pers. comm. 2007). Wild meat is chosen in preference to farmed meat despite a greater price per unit weight (e.g. Hansel 2004). Markets along major roads such as route 13 (e.g. at Ban Namthon) have expanded, not contracted, in the last 15 years and have a huge (albeit unquantified) turnover of wild meat; at this specific market, multiple stalls are selling dried muntjac meat daily (balance of muntjac species unknown). The effects of hunting in Lao PDR, Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand have been exacerbated during the last two decades by habitat loss and various socio-economic factors, of which the most biologically significant are discussed in the Red List account for Large-antlered Muntjac M. vuquangensis.

Thus, even though this is one of the most resilient of large mammals in Indochina persisting in fragmented landscapes and often in peripheral forest areas, populations in Indochina (Viet Nam, Lao PDR and Cambodia) are likely to be declining significantly (perhaps at a level to trigger VU i.e. 30% in 10–15 years; for the regional population). Densities especially in Lao PDR and Viet Nam are generally well below carrying capacity, although in extensive areas of Cambodia are likely to be more natural, as they are across the range west of the Mekong.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Northern Red Muntjac occurs in many protected areas throughout its range and in most countries is covered by laws regulating hunting at some level. Across large parts of its range, the species would benefit if these national laws involving the protection of the species were more efficiently enforced, particularly those which relate to wildlife trading.

Bibliography [top]

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Citation: Timmins, R.J., Duckworth, J.W., Pattanavibool, A., Steinmetz, R., Samba Kumar, N., Anwarul Islam, Md. & Sagar Baral, H. 2008. Muntiacus vaginalis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 29 August 2014.
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