Scientists couldn’t believe their eyes! Right before them an extremely rare animal appeared, then disappeared again. Is this a monster of cryptozoology lore, or a real beast struggling to survive in harsh conditions? Let’s take a look!
Long prized by Afghan hunters for their scent glands, the Kashmir musk deer (Moschus cupreus) was feared extinct because scientists hadn’t seen one since 1948. (Photo right by Nikolay Usik of a captive male Kashmir musk deer.)
The Kashmir musk deer is very strange looking to Western eyes. Unlike the gentle grazers we know in the Americas, the males of this species actually have fangs!! Scientists believe they use them fighting other bucks during mating season.
These deer only measure about two to three feet tall, weigh between 15 and 37 pounds, and are extremely hard to spot in the wild because they don’t group together in herds but seem to remain mostly solitary.
This recent sighting was reported by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) team led by Dr. Stephane Ostrowski and even they admitted the animal(s) was/were difficult to spot. This team reported five sightings in Eastern Afghanistan in “rugged, foliage rich terrain.”
What I especially find funny is that they weren’t able to get a photograph of it either! So now it’s a little less hard to criticize people for not being able to get a good photo of Bigfoot, right? (Photo left of a captive 5 year old male Kashmir musk deer.)
Anyway, Peter Zahler who is the Deputy Director of Asia Programs for the WCS, said, “[the musk deer is] one of Afghanistan’s living treasures. [They hope] that conditions will stabilize soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species.”
I wish them luck. As we all know from the news, Afghanistan is far from stable in any way, shape or form.
And what about these scent glands? According to a site called IFLScience, “By weight, their scent glands are more valuable than gold, fetching as much as $45,000 per kilogram on the international black market. Their musk – the brown, waxy secretions from glands near a male’s rear end – have been used in cosmetics, fragrances, and traditional medicine for centuries.” The sad part is they could extract the scent without killing the animals if they were so inclined.
Another factor contributing to their endangered status is loss of habitat. Combine that with overhunting by scent-gland-crazed poachers and the outlook for these poor creatures doesn’t look too good. (Photo right of a captive male Kashmir musk deer.)