Saturday, 1 November 2014

Strange, Vampire-like Deer Still Alive in Afghanistan

Kashmir Muskdeer still alive in Afganistan
Musk deers use their distinctive fungs tusks during
 the rutting season  to compete with other males.
Photo shows a Siberian musk deer, a similar and closely
related species.
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
It's been more than 60 years after the last confirmed sighting of the Kashmir musk deer in Afganistan, a strange deer with vampire-like fangs native to Afghanistan, Republic of India, and Pakistan.

Now, a new study appearing in the latest edition of the journal Oryx reveals that the Kashmir musk deer (Moschus cupreus) still persists in the rugged forested slopes of northeast Afghanistan. The research was led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which confirmed the species presence during recent surveys.

M. cupreus is one of the seven similar, vampire-like deer found in Asia that make up Moschus, the only genus of the family Moschidae. The last documented sighting in Afghanistan was believed to have been made by a Danish survey team traversing the region in 1948.

Today, the species is categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List for a variety of reasons, including restricted range, ongoing habitat loss and poaching. The latter is the greatest threat as the musk produced by the species is highly valued for its cosmetic and alleged pharmaceutical properties, and can fetch up to 45,000 USD per kilogram on the international market.

The survey team reported five sightings, including a solitary male in the same area on three occasions, one female with a juvenile, and one solitary female, which may have been the same individual without her young. All sightings were in steep rocky outcrops interspersed with alpine meadows and scattered, dense high bushes of juniper and rhododendron. According to the team, the musk deer were discrete, cryptic, difficult to spot, and could not be photographed.

The authors say that targeted conservation of the species and its habitat are required to ensure its survival in Afghanistan.

"Despite indications of unsustainable hunting, this Endangered species persists in Afghanistan and targeted conservation programmes are required to protect it and its forest habitat.", extract from the study.

Although the deteriorating security conditions in Nuristan did not allow NGOs to remain in Nuristan after 2010, the Wildlife Conservation Society maintains contact with the local people it has trained and will pursue funding to continue ecosystem research and protection in Nuristan when the situation improves.

"Musk deer are one of Afghanistan’s living treasures. This rare species, along with better known wildlife such as snow leopards, are the natural heritage of this struggling nation. We hope that conditions will stabilize soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species." said co-author Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs.

- The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and currently works to conserve more than two million square miles of wild places around the world. 
- In total, there are 7 musk deer species, all of the family Moschidae:
  • Moschus moschiferus (Siberian musk deer)
  • Moschus anhuiensis (Anhui musk deer)
  • Moschus berezovskii (Dwarf musk deer)
  • Moschus fuscus (Black musk deer)
  • Moschus chrysogaster (Alpine Musk Deer)
  • Moschus cupreus (Kashmir Muskdeer)
  • Moschus leucogaster  (Kashmir Muskdeer)

- Ostrowski, S., Rahmani, H., Ali, J., Ali, R., & Zahler, P. (2014). Musk deer Moschus cupreus persist in the eastern forests of Afghanistan Oryx, 1-6 DOI: 10.1017/S0030605314000611
- Timmins, R.J. & Duckworth, J.W. (2008). "Moschus cupreus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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