More than 60 years after its last confirmed sighting, a strange, endangered deer with vampire-like fangs still lives in northeast Afghanistan’s rugged wooded slopes, scientists are reporting.
Known 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 in 1948. A research team led by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society reported new sightings from recent surveys, describing the findings in the Oct. 22 issue of the research journal Oryx.
All sightings were in steep rocky outcrops interspersed with alpine meadows and scattered, dense high bushes of juniper and rhododendron, the scientists said. According to the team, the deer were discreet, “cryptic,” hard to spot, and couldn’t be photographed.
The species is categorized as Endangered on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat loss and poaching. Wildlife traffickers covet its scent glands, considered more valuable than gold, fetching almost $1,300 an ounce on the black market. The male uses its saber-like tusks to compete with other males.
The survey team recorded five sightings, including a solitary male in the same area on three occasions, a female with a juvenile, and a solitary female, which may have been the same one.
The authors say that targeted conservation of the species and its habitat are needed for it to survive in Afghanistan. Deteriorating security in the province, Nuristan, blocked international organizations from operating after 2010, but the society said it keeps contact with local people it has trained and will pursue funding to continue research and protection when the situation improves.
“Musk deer are one of Afghanistan’s living treasures,” said study co-author Peter Zahler, the society’s 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.”