A Reeves muntjac that was killed by a wild bear early Monday morning at a New Brunswick zoo is part of a dwindling captive population of the rare breed of deer from southeastern China and Taiwan.
It was the only male muntjac at the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, and zoo manager Bruce Dougan said it will be difficult to replace.
Dougan said the small deer is about the size of a dachshund. It is also known as a barking deer because when threatened, the muntjac make noises similar to that of a barking dog.
"They're very unique," said Dougan. "We had the largest group in Canada in captivity but our group was getting older and they're very difficult to acquire in Canada now, almost impossible."
None are currently available, he said.
Dougan said he has made some inquiries and the muntjac are also rare in the United States.
"Many species of animals are becoming almost as rare in captivity as they are in the wild. There are becoming fewer and fewer zoos in the world," he said.
One of the zoo's three female muntjacs was also injured in the attack, said Dougan.
"Whether the male was trying to protect the females and attacked the bear, we don't know, but there was an injury on the bear.
"Eventually [the bear] dispatched the male, unfortunately. Of course he was a much bigger animal than the male muntjac … but he left the females alone, although they were quite stressed by the incident."
Dougan said the three females that remain at the zoo will be part of a new Asia exhibit, and the zoo will try to replace the male.
"We have to collaborate almost globally to maintain some of these species in a healthy fashion," he explained.
Bear had been spotted for more than 2 weeks
Dougan said a wild bear was discovered inside the muntjac exhibit when zookeepers were completing their regular checks on all of the animals Monday morning.
"We were able to get him into the muntjac house and secure him in there and then we called the Department of Natural Resources," he said.
'When a bear is determined and hungry and a young bear like that there's not much that's going to stop him.'- Bruce Dougan, Magnetic Hill Zoo
The bear, which turned out to be a young male, had been seen around the zoo for more than two weeks and the Department of Natural Resources had set a couple of unsuccessful traps.
"He had been sighted the day before, on Sunday, in the Magic Mountain parking lot and up on Front Mountain Road," said Dougan. "He was very clearly unafraid of people and he was very habituated to people, so when he showed this sign of aggression at the zoo … DNR felt it best to dispatch the animal."
Dougan suspects the bear may have smelled other bears in an enclosure near the fence, right next to the muntjac pen.
He said the zoo has plenty of security including a seven-foot fence and a security guard and dog team that patrols the property at night.
"In defence of them not being able to discover this animal, this animal was right beside our regular bear exhibit so the dog probably wouldn't think it was unusual to see a bear in that area of the zoo."
Dougan said in his 40 years of working at zoos he has never seen something like this happen, and employees are now investigating how the wild bear got in.
But he isn't sure what more can be done.
"There's a stockade fence that runs between Magic Mountain and the Zoo. It's a wooden stockade fence with very sharp points on the top and it appears he broke off the tops of that fence and climbed in that way," said Dougan.
"When a bear is determined and hungry, and a young bear like that, there's not much that's going to stop him."