Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"
We're off to South America this time! This is a Red Brocket, Mazama americana. Brockets are small deer, mostly living in forests in South and Central America. There are about ten species known, but there might be more: this is a group in which there is a lot of genetic variation while not showing as much variation in physical shape. The Red Brocket is the largest of the brockets, reaching 80 cm/32" in shoulder height, and 65 kg/143 lbs in bodyweight, though a more usual maximum is 48 kg/106 lbs. This species is also the most widely distributed of the brocket species, occurring in the entire Amazon Basin and surrounded areas.
I've covered duikers twice in this column already and will, I hope, cover them several times more. Duikers are small African antelopes that mostly live in dense forests. Brockets are the equivalent in South America: small, forest-living deer. They're not closely related to duikers; they are true deer, descended from probably much larger species. But they live in a similar environment and consequently evolved into similar shapes and sizes. The smallest brockets weigh around 8 kg/18 lbs. They have compact bodies and short, peg-like 'horns' instead of branched antlers … or no horns/antlers at all.
They have similar lifestyles to duikers as well. They skulk around the forest, singly or in pairs. They're active mostly at night. They stick close to dense vegetation into which they will flee if they fear predators. They stomp their hooves and snort loudly as an alarm call if they sense danger. They mark their territories with scent glands on their faces, as well as with their urine and faeces. They're herbivores, eating leaves and shoots, and picking up fallen fruits from the forest floor.
Although brockets all look very similar, they seem to be 'hiding' considerable genetic diversity underneath their similar exteriors. The ten species currently recognized have been distinguished only recently; with additional genetic study there would likely prove to be more species, or distinct genetic groups among them. Although they are currently all classified in a single genus, Mazama (from the Nahuatl word 'mazame', meaning 'deer'), this may change as well, since they may be descended from more than one larger deer species, having only become similar due to evolving similar lifestyles.
Many brocket species are rare and endangered. The Red Brocket is the most widespread of all, but seems to occur at low densities, and it is necessary to study it some more to properly assess its conservation needs. It is vulnerable, apart from to humans (by way of direct hunting and habitat destruction), to predation from jaguars, pumas, anacondas and boas which share their habitat.