Pilandok
(Tragalus nigricans)

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South of Palawan, lies the Balabac Island, home of the world's smallest hoofed mammal - the Philippine mouse deer. Locally known as Pilandok (Tragalus nigricans), this ruminant stands only about 40 centimeters at the shoulder level.

In other countries, it is called chevrotain, or simply mouse deer. It is among the endemic, yet threatened species in Palawan, which also serves as a sanctuary to the Palawan eagle, the scaly anteater, giant turtles, Palawan peacock pheasant, Palawan bearcat, and the Tabon bird.

Pilandok belongs to the family Tragulidae in the mammalian order Artiodactyla. Contrary to its name, pilandok is not a member of the deer family. The male species has no antlers like those of a real deer. Instead, it uses its large tusk-like canine teeth on its upper jaw for self-defense; in the same way a deer uses its antlers.

It has rabbit-like body and an arched back that is covered by brown fur, with a white base. A dark line runs from each ear past the eye toward the nose. Its slender legs, about the size of a pencil, end in small feet. Its most distinct feature is its tapered pig-like snout.

Pilandok is a solitary nocturnal animal that hunts for food at night, feeding mainly on leaves, fruits, flowers, twigs, shrubs and other vegetation in the dense forest or near mangrove swamps. During the day, it stays in the forest and avoids movement, sometimes resting in the branches of low trees. Extremely territorial by nature, both sexes of larger Malay mouse deer regularly mark their territories with urine, feces, and secretions from an intermandibular gland under the chin.

Aside from the Pilandok, other mouse deer species include the smaller Malay mouse deer, or napu, the larger Malay mouse deer, and the African water chevrotain. They are found in Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and India. While the mouse deer are widely distributed across Asia, their dwindling population has alarmed the World Conservation Union, which declared them as endangered in 1996.

In the Philippines, efforts are being made to protect the remaining population of Pilandok. Several pairs of these ruminants were in fact shipped to the nearby Calauit Island, so that they could start propagating. We can only hope for the continued existence of this exotic animal.

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