White-bellied musk deer
|White-bellied Musk Deer|
The White-bellied or Himalayan musk deer (Moschus leucogaster) is a musk deer species occurring in the Himalayas of Nepal, Bhutan, northern India including Sikkim and China. It is listed as Endangered by IUCN because of over-exploitation resulting in a probable serious population decline. It is the state animal of Uttarakhand.
The Himalayan musk meer is very well adapted for high altitudes; they demonstrate such adaptations as well-developed dewclaws, broad toes that provide increased stability on steep slopes, and a dense coat of coarse hairs with air-filled cells to insulate against the extreme temperature. While they lack antlers, a trait notable among all musk deer, they do possess a pair of enlarged and easily broken canines that grow continuously. The maximum length of these tusks is approximately ten centimeters. These deer have a stocky body type; their hind legs are also significantly longer and more muscular than their shorter, thinner forelimbs. In place of running or leaping, this species tends to "bound." Finally, fawns of this species have white spots to help with camouflage, but as they mature these spots disappear.
The Himalayan musk deer has a waxy substance called musk that the male deer secrets from a gland in the abdomen. The deer use this to mark territories and attract females. But the musk is also been used in the manufacture of perfumes, and medicines.
Distribution and habitat
Himalayan musk deer is found in parts of northern Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, and in northern parts of India such as in (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Assam). It inhabits high alpine environments, with the lowest occurring altitude at 2500 m above sea level. The species is endangered due to a high volume of illegal wildlife trade within its range.
Ecology and behaviour
Shy and secretive during the day when it hides in dense cover, at night the Himalayan musk deer emerges to feed in more open habitats. This species prefers to select the leaves of trees and shrubs with a high protein and low fibre content, but during the winter it may subsist on poorer quality lichens, although it may climb small trees to feed upon leaves that would otherwise be out of reach. The Himalayan musk deer is a fairly sedentary species, occupying a small home range of up to 22 hectares. The males are fiercely territorial, only allowing females to enter their range. Territories are marked by carefully placed defecation sites and strong-smelling secretions, which are placed onto the surrounding plants
Himalayan musk deer males fight each other over females during the mating season. The males use their long canines to fight and defend their territory. The females, on the other hand, hide from all the commotion. For the males to attract the females and bring them out from hiding, they use their strong smelling musk. Those with a good smell will attract the females and mate with them.
A female will have up to one or two young. The young musk deer will live off their mother's milk till they are about six months old and able to eat regular foods available in the wild. It is not until they are sixteen to twenty-four months old that they become sexually mature.
As the musk the deer produces is in demand for the manufacture of perfumes and medicines, it is highly valuable. Since the species is endangered and hard to find, its value on the wildlife trade market is increased still further. The hunting and trade of the Himalayan Musk Deer is the main threat to the species. Deer musk may sell for as much as $45,000 per kilogram, making it one of the most valuable animal-derived products in the world. Hunters catch and kill the deer using snares. Only males produce the musk and this creates a problem because females and young are caught in the traps and killed.
The Himalayan musk deer is protected by law in Bhutan, Nepal and India. In China, hunting may be permitted in some areas, although a license is required. It is listed as an endangered species in Pakistan and is also found in a number of protected areas throughout; however, the uneven enforcement of legislation across its range has meant there has been little impact on preventing the rampant trade in the species. Improving the enforcement of anti-poaching laws is deemed[by whom?] a key priority for the conservation of this species.
Efforts being made
Captive-deer farming for musk has been developed in China, and so far has shown that it is possible to extract musk from a deer without having to kill it. However, the captive deer succumb to disease and fighting and produce poorer quality musk. The killing of wild deer is thought to be the most cost-effective method of extracting musk. Open farming is a possible new way to extract the musk, whereby free-ranging or wild musk deer are caught and the musk then extracted, allowing the species to be conserved and survive.
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