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Strange, fanged deer per­sists in Afghanistan

pub­lished 03 Novem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

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.

Kashmir muskdeerKnown as the Kash­mir musk deer – one of seven sim­i­lar species found in Asia – the last sci­en­tific sight­ing in Afghanistan was believed to have been made by a Dan­ish sur­vey team tra­vers­ing the region in 1948.

Musk deer are one of Afghanistan’s liv­ing treasures
« Peter Zahler, co-​author, WCS Deputy Direc­tor of Asia Programs

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)

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