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Mousedeer form the Tragulidae family of small even-toed ungulates in the mammalian order Artiodactyla. Other artiodactyl families include the deer, the pigs and the cattle. There are reportedly two species existing in Singapore: the lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil) and the greater mousedeer (Tragulus napu). They have been recorded in the Central Catchment Area, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin. The mousedeer is well known from Malay stories as the wily Sang Kancil who always manages to outwit large predators like the crocodile and the tiger.
Southeast Asian tragulids look like deer but can be distinguished from deer by their small size and thin legs and a triangular white pattern extending from the chin and running down the throat. The coat has a range of shades from grey to reddish-brown. Males have a pair of enlarged canines that extend down from their upper jaw. The head-body length of the adult greater mousedeer is 50-60cm while the adult lesser mousedeer measures 40-50cm. The distinguishing feature of the lesser mousedeer is that the white stripe on the two sides of the triangular pattern that runs down the chin and throat is continuous, whereas the greater mousedeer's stripes are broken and/or uneven.
Singapore's lesser mousedeer used to be considered a subspecies of the Javan mousedeer (Tragulus javanicus). However, in 2004, Meijaard and Groves published a paper distinguishing it from Tragulus javanicus and restoring the earlier name: Tragulus kanchil (Raffles, 1821).
According to Lord Medway (1983), the greater mousedeer has a pregnancy of five to six months and the young become full adults at five months old. The lesser mousedeer usually gives birth to one fawn which is weaned in about three months.
Mousedeer are frugivorous. They feed on fallen fruits, shoots, young leaves and fungi foraged from the ground and low vegetation.
Habitat and Range
They inhabit primary and mature secondary rainforest. Other than Singapore, both species can be found in Indochina, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo, though the lesser mousedeer also occurs in south China.
In Singapore, while the lesser mousedeer has always been a known inhabitant of the Central Catchment Area, the greater mousedeer was thought to have vanished from Singapore since before the Second World War and was not recorded in the Nature Reserves Survey of the 1990s. In 1999, eight greater mousedeer were reintroduced into the Central Catchment Area. Both species have been recorded on Pulau Ubin as well.
The mousedeer is traditionally hunted for its meat, which has been said to be more tender than venison. The meat is also made into dendeng (spiced, dried meat). Hunting of mousedeer in Singapore ended on 27 June 1947 when the Wild Animals and Birds Protection Order, 1947 was gazetted, closing the season for the hunting of mousedeer and several other species of wildlife.
Literary and Cultural References
Mousedeer stories have been told and retold as folklore for generations, then published and republished by successive generations of folklorists and children's authors. Sang Kancil stories, as they are popularly known, demonstrate the craftiness and intelligence of the mousedeer. Common targets of the wily mousedeer's tricks are the tiger and the crocodile. One of the earliest published collections of Sang Kancil stories in the National Library Singapore collection is Hikayat Pelandok edited by Ormonde Theodore Dussek and published in 1915. From 1951 to 1963, Kathleen Hickley wrote a series of modern stories about Mat Mousedeer for children in The Straits Times. Instead of the forest, Mat Mousedeer lived in a kampung and did things like publishing magazines with his friends.
On occasion, Singapore has been likened to Sang Kancil. For example, Yang Razali Kassim was alluding to Singapore when he wrote this in The Business Times on 26 February 2003: "To survive, the tiny kancil makes up for its small size with nimbleness and cunning to outwit the bigger creatures in the jungle."
Two mousedeer appear on the Malacca coat of arms, a reference to the story of the founding of Malacca in the Sejarah Melayu. As the story goes, a white mousedeer kicked the hunting dog of Sultan Iskandar Shah, prompting the Sultan to exclaim, "This is a good place, when even its mousedeer are full of fight! We shall do well to make a city here." In 1990, then Minister for Trade and Industry Lee Hsien Loong made a reference to this tale when he said that "if ever we are chased by a hound bigger than ourselves,... then we must, like the mousedeer, be prepared to turn around and give it a kick".
Scientific names: Tragulus for the genus. The greater mousedeer is Tragulus napu while the lesser mousedeer is Tragulus kanchil (formerly Tragulus javanicus).
- English: mousedeer, Asiatic mouse deer, chevrotain
- Malay: kancil, pelanduk (napuh and kancil besar refer specifically to the greater mousedeer)
- Chinese: xilu, shulu (direct translation of mousedeer)
Ang, Y. (2009, March 16). Greater mouse deer sighted in Ubin. The Straits Times. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from Factiva database.
Bodmer, R. E. (1990, April). Ungulate frugivores and the browser-grazer continuum. Oikos, 57(3). Retrieved April 17, 2009, from JSTOR database.
Burkill, I. H. (1935). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula (Vol. I, p.774) [Microfilm: NL 25449]. London: Governments of the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States.
Dussek, O. T. (Ed.). (1915). Hikayat pelandok: ia-itu hikayat Sang Kanchil, cherita pelandok dengan anak memerang, hikayat pelandok jenaka [Microfilm: NL 8451]. Singapore: Methodist Publishing House.
Kamus besar bahasa Melayu Utusan. (1995). Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 499.2303 KAM)
Medway, Lord. (1983). The wild mammals of Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) and Singapore (2nd ed., pp.106-107). Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 599.09595 MED)
Nathan, D. (1999, April 6). Mousedeer to be released into reserves. The Straits Times. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Sejarah Melayu or 'Malay Annals': A translation of Raffles MS 18 (C. C. Brown, Trans.). (1953). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 25(2,3).
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)
Singapore. (1947, June 27). Colony of Singapore Government Gazette supplement (S205/1947, p.427) [Microfilm: NL 2954]. Singapore: Government Printing Office.
Teo, R. C. H., & S. Rajathurai. (1997). Mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the nature reserves of Singapore - diversity, abundance and distribution. The Gardens' Bulletin, 49(2), 353-425.
(Call no.: RSING 581.05 SIN)
The nimble mousedeer and the fighting spirit. (1990, August 15). The Straits Times. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Wild animals of Singapore: A photographic guide to mammals, reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fishes (pp.155, 170). (2008). Singapore: Draco Publishing and Distribution; Nature Society (Singapore).
(Call no.: RSING 591.95957 WIL)
Wilson, D. E., & Reeder, D. M. (Eds.). (2005). Mammal species of the world: A taxonomic and geographic reference (3rd ed., pp.649-650). Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
(Call no.: R 599.012 MAM)
Wu, G. H. (Ed). (1993). Han ying da ci dian [Chinese-English dictionary] (Vol. II, p.2726). Shanghai: Shang hai jiao tong da xue chu ban she.
(Call no.: R Chinese 495.1321 CHI)
Yang Razali Kassim. (2003, February 26). Can the tiger and sang kancil ever make up? The Business Times. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from Factiva database.
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.