An endangered, fanged deer was spotted for the first time in over a half a century in a remote forest in northeastern Afghanistan.
The strange, vampire like creature is known as the Kashmir musk deer, and it’s native to the Himalayas of northern India, Pakistan’s Kashmir region and northern Afghanistan. Only the male Kashmir musk deer’s possess fangs, and use them during mating season to compete for females. A team of researchers searched Afghanistan’s Nuristan province during 2008 and 2009, and recorded five sightings of the fanged deer. This was the first time the species had been spotted since 1948 – 60 years later. The sightings were described in this month’s issue of journal Oryx.
During the search, the researchers spotted a single male Kashmir musk deer near the same area on three separate occasions. The researchers also discovered one female and her baby, and saw a second female that they think may have been the same deer, sans the baby. The researchers also found the carcass of a poached female deer.
The Kashmir musk deer is classified as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Musk-deer meat is a local delicacy, however the species in largely hunted for its scent gland which are more valuable by weight than gold. Some believe the glands have pharmaceutical properties, and they sell for nearly $20,455 per pound on the black market, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“This rare species, along with better-known wildlife, such as snow leopards, are the natural heritage of this struggling nation,” Peter Zahler, deputy director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Programs, said in a statement. “We hope that conditions will stabilize soon, to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species.”
All of the musk deer were spotted on sheltered rocky outcrops around 9,843 feet tall. In the summer, they typically trek along steep slopes that make them almost impossible to approach and keep them relatively safe from hunters. However, with heavy snowfall in winter, the species are driven further down to more human-accessible slopes, and hunters come from all over the country to stalk the fanged deer for their valuable scent glands.
Being poached isn’t the only threat this species faces, human development has fragmented their habitat as well. They rely on mountainous coniferous forests, but deforestation and human settlements are encroaching on the species’ disappearing home.
Due to violence and unrest, nongovernmental organizations like Wildlife Conservation Society have not been able to operate in the Nuristan province since 2010. The WCS maintains contact with locals they have trained to survey and find musk deer. Once the situation in Nuristan improves, the WCS plans to return to the area to continue to research and formulate a conservation plan.