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Extinct deer species the size of a house cat found in Badlands National Park

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Researchers have identified a new genus of deer in fossils found in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park, the National Park Service announced Thursday.

The deer presented by the researchers is clearly different from the animal most people know today, as reconstructions suggest it would have been about the size of a domestic cat.

The Park Service said in a news release that the small, polled deer lived in South Dakota about 32 million years ago, during the Oligocene. It belongs to an extinct deer family that is considered relatives of today’s chevrotains, or mouse deer, commonly found in the tropical forests of Central and West Africa and Southeast Asia.

Scientists from the park, the American Museum of Natural History and California State Polytechnic University published their findings in the Proceedings of the South Dakota Academy of Science.

New deer found by park visitor completes career

Research into the deer was prompted by the discovery of a nearly intact skull by a visitor and reached the scientists via a report by Geoscientists-in-the-Parks intern Tiffany Leone in 2016.

“This article is a great example of highlighting citizen science because this is the only skull of this animal ever found,” Mattison Shreero, co-principal investigator for the National Park Service, said in the press release. “And if someone had run away with it, or if they just didn’t report it and it eroded away, we would never have known about it.”

the deer family, Santuccimeryxwas named in honor of the work of Vincent L. Santucci, the senior paleontologist and paleontology program coordinator in the Geological Resources Division of the National Park Service.

“I am personally and professionally grateful to be associated with this important new fossil discovery in Badlands National Park, where I began my career as a paleontologist,” Santucci said in the press release.