Rare Fanged Deer Emerges for First Time in 60 Years
There are seven different species of musk deer that grace the forests and mountainous areas of Asia, most notably the Himalayas. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of a musk deer is its fang-like teeth.
Only the males of the species grow the fangs, which are actually tusks because they are used during mating season to compete for female attention.
Not only is the meat of the deer considered a local delicacy, but musk deer are also hunted for their scent glands. These glands are thought to have medicinal importance, and some can sell for three times that of gold of the same weight.
Because of this, all seven of the species are classified as either “Endangered” or “Vulnerable”, including the Kashmir musk deer, which was last spotted by a Danish expedition in 1948.
The problem is that all of the species of musk deer are difficult to observe due to the creatures being naturally timid and solitary, hiding out in dense, shrubby forest undergrowth for most of the day.
And so, back in 2008, when it had been sixty years since a Kashmir musk deer had last been observed, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) took it upon themselves to track down the elusive animals. Their findings were recently published in Oryx.
Throughout 2008 and 2009, the team investigated certain areas of Afghanistan that the deer were likely to frequent. They recorded and analysed any evidence they found of the creatures, actually spotting what they think was a Kashmir musk deer on five separate occasions. Three times they caught site of an individual male deer around the same site. They also saw a female with her offspring. And although another female was spotted – without an infant by her side – it is thought that she might have been the same one.
All of the deer were observed on sheltered rocky outcrops almost 10,000 feet (3,000m) high up. The deer regularly trek along these steep slopes because it makes them almost impossible to approach, thus keeping them relatively safe from hunters.
However, the timidity of the animals also meant that the team had been unable to photograph them (the cover picture for this article actually is that of the Kashmir musk deer’s cousin, the Siberian musk deer).
“Musk deer are one of Afghanistan’s living treasures,” said study co-author Dr Peter Zahler, noting that along with other well-known but rare species, they are part of the national heritage of a struggling nation. “We hope that the condition [of the country] will stabilise soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species.”