More than 60 years after its last confirmed sighting, a strange deer with vampire-like fangs still persists in the rugged forested slopes of northeast Afghanistan according to a research team led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which confirmed the species presence during recent surveys.
The fanged deer species (Moschus cupreus) is categorised as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ due to habitat loss and poaching. Its scent glands are coveted by wildlife traffickers and are considered more valuable by weight than gold, fetching as much as $ 45,000/kilo on the black market. The male’s distinct saber-like tusks are used during the rutting season to compete with other males.
The survey team recorded 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 study was published online on 22 October in the journal Oryx.
The authors say that targeted conservation of the species and its habitat are needed for it to survive in Afghanistan.
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,” said co-author Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs. “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.”
The study was made possible by the generous support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). With USAID support, WCS has been helping to build Afghanistan’s capacity for sustainably managing their natural resources at both the government and community levels, including the recent creation of the country’s first (2009) and second (2014) official protected areas – Band-e-Amir and Wakhan National Parks.
(Source: Wildlife Conservation Society press release, 31.10.2014)