Vanishing Species – Himalayan Musk Deer


An Article by Mohan Pai

The Himalayan Musk Deer
(Kasturi Mrigha)
Moschus leucogaster
Gram for gram, musk is one of the most valuable products in the natural kingdom and can be worth three times more than its weight in gold.
Besides hunting for meat, which is considered a delicacy locally, hunting of the musk deer is primarily for trade of musk glands. The musk produced by this genus of primitive deer is highly valued for its cosmetic and alleged pharmaceutical properties, and can fetch U.S.$ 45,000 per kilogram on the international market. Although this musk, produced in a gland of the males, can be extracted from live animals, most “musk-gatherers” kill the animals to remove the entire sac, which yields only about 25 grams (1/40 of a kilogram) of the brown waxy substance. Such poaching is relatively easy to accomplish and difficult to stop.There is also some forest loss within its range for agriculture, timber and human settlement.
This species occurs in the Himalayas of Bhutan, northern India (including Sikkim), Nepal, and China (southwest Xizang). Its occurrence in China is almost marginal.
Ecology and Behavior
Himalayan musk deer are most active between dusk and dawn, alternately resting and feeding throughout this period. At night, musk deer can be seen in the open areas of their habitat as they graze, while during the day, they remain in dense cover. Neighbouring individuals may utilize common latrines, an activity with becomes more frequent during the mating season. Himalayan musk deer are sedentary, remaining within a defined home range throughout the year. In females these are about 125 acres in size, while male musk deer will control a territory which encompasses the ranges of several females, defending it against intrusion by rival males. The Himalayan musk deer does not undertake any seasonal migrations, remaining in the same area year-round despite harsh weather conditions. A shy animal, the musk deer depends on its sense of hearing to locate sources of danger. When frightened, they make broad leaps, each measuring up to 6 meters / 19 feet in length. Drastic changes in direction are made during flight, and every few jumps the animal will stop and listen. Communication between individuals is thought to be based primarily on their sense of smell, due to the high development of the glands of musk deer. Primarily silent, musk deer will emit a loud double hiss if alarmed, and may scream plaintively if wounded.
Population densities are about 3-4 animals per square kilometer.
Family group: Solitary.
Diet: Leaves, grasses, moss, lichens, shoots, twigs.
Main Predators: Yellow-throated marten, fox, wolf, lynx.
Distribution: Alpine forest and scrub at elevations of 2,200-4,300 meters / 7250-14,200 feet on the eastern and southern edge of Tibet and the southern slopes of the Himalayas.

Range Map

Listed as Endangered because of a probable serious population decline, estimated to be more than 50% over the last three generations (approximately 21 years), inferred from over-exploitation, which is characteristic of this genus. Although there is no direct data available regarding recent declining population rates, the above-mentioned rate of decline seems reasonable based on the high levels of harvesting. It should also be noted that the species has a relatively restricted range, and so its population is unlikely to be large.
 
 
References: ultimateungulate.com, National Geographic, IUCN Red List.
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