A group of eight sambar deer was found more than 4,000 meters above sea level near sources of the Lancang, Yangtze and Yellow rivers.

"They are similar to red deer commonly found on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, but there are several differences," said Cheng Ga, a local environment officer.

Months of observations confirmed that the animals were sambar deer, the biggest deer species found in tropical and sub-tropical areas, said Zhao Xiang, a researcher with Beijing Shanshui Conservation Center.

"It is extremely unusual to find sambar deer in such high, cold areas," Zhao said, adding that the discovery may indicate that the environment at the river sources is improving.

"Climate change could also be an important reason," Zhao said. The sambar deer is listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' (IUCN) red list of threatened species.

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