Alpine Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster): Endangered in China and Tibet

by DerdriuMarriner

The alpine musk deer does not live in Europe’s Alps. But the species does make musk. It is musk’s use in incense, medicine, perfume, and soap that imperils Asia’s alpine musk deer.

The word alpine can indicate someone or something that specifically is associated with the Alps Mountain Range. Or it designates someone or something that generally is linked with high altitudes. For example, the red deer (Cervus elaphus) fits both descriptions, as an animal native to:
• Europe’s Alps;
• High elevations.

But only the context of lofty heights has any relevance for the alpine musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster). It is a bit disappointing that the alpine musk deer cannot be found existing natively outside of Asia. All seven of Asia’s known moschid (moss-eating, musk-making deer) species lead endangered life cycles and natural histories because of the appeal to and profitability for modernists and traditionalists of their:
• Flesh;
• Fragrance;
• Fur.

Alpine Musk Deer's homelands: Lhasa's storied landscapes ~

Potala Palace rises above old city of Lhasa.
Lhasa, south central Tibet Autonomous Region
Lhasa, south central Tibet Autonomous Region

 

Wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals access two main sets of names when identifying the world’s known fauna and flora. The common, non-scientific, popular or traditional designation assumes the form alpine musk deer for one of Asia’s high altitude-dwelling moschids. The Greco-Latin, scientific, taxonomic name becomes Moschus chrysogaster for the above-mentioned alpine musk deer. The latter term belongs within binomial (“two-name”) identification systems. But it also can be expanded to fit within trinomial (“three-name”) taxonomies. The expansion depends upon the formal description of an animal or plant in terms of:

  • Genus;
  • Species;
  • Subspecies.

Not all of the world’s taxonomized life forms get three names. For example, not all of Asia’s musk deer species have a further separation into subspecies.

 

Taxonomic pioneer Carl Linnaeus is credited with identification of Moschus as musk deer genus:

1982 bronze sculpture of Carl Linnaeus by Robert Berks (born 1922)
Chicago Botanic Garden, Cook County, northeastern Illinois
Chicago Botanic Garden, Cook County, northeastern Illinois

 

Tripartite nomenclature indeed applies to alpine moschids. The proper categorization of the even-toed (artiodactyl), hooved (ungulate), ruminant (having a four-part stomach) mammal consolidates 250+ years of scientific interest. It dates back to:

  • 1758, with the moss-eating, musk-making genus Moschus‘s description by Råshult-born Swedish botanist, ecologist, physician, taxonomist, and zoologist Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778);
  • 1839, with the yellow-bellied species Moschus chrysogaster‘s and the nominate (“first-named”) subspecies Moschus chrysogaster chrysogaster‘s identification by Lower Beech-born British ethnologist, mammalogist, naturalist, and ornithologist Brian Houghton Hodgson (February 1, 1800? – May 23, 1894);
  • 1891, with the second subspecies Moschus chrysogaster sifanicus‘s taxonomization by St. Petersburg-born Russian mammalogist, ornithologist, and zoologist Eugen Alexander Büchner (March 20, 1861 – March 17, 1913).

 

Russian scientist Eugen Alexander Büchner taxonomized Moschus chrysogaster sifanicus, Alpine Musk Deer subspecies.

Евгений Бихнер Eugen Büchner (1861 - 1913)

British scientist Brian Houghton Hodgson is credited with identification of Alpine Musk Deer as species and of Moschus chrysogaster chrysogaster as subspecies:

oil on canvas (exhibited 1872) by Louisa Starr-Canziani (1845 - 1909)
National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 1707
National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 1707

 

The recognition of subspecies articulates subtleties in:

  • Distribution ranges;
  • Physical appearances.

For example, the Hodgson subspecies Moschus chrysogaster chrysogaster claims as bio-geographies southeastern and southern Tibet. The Büchner subspecies contrastingly finds native homelands in the People’s Republic of China’s provinces of:

  • Gansu (Shoulu and Xinglong Mountain Nature Reserves), Ningxia (Helan Mountain Nature Range), and Qinghai in the northwest;
  • Sichuan (in the western part) and Yunnan (in the northwestern part) in the southwest.

Both subspecies nevertheless prefer the same habitats and niches. They seek:

  • Altitudes 6,561.68 – 16,404.19 feet (2,000 – 5,000 meters) above sea level;
  • Monthly actual evapotranspiration of 21.92 inches (556.83 millimeters), precipitation of 3.57 inches (90.64 millimeters), and temperatures of 30.45°F (-0.86°C);
  • Rocky, rough slopes inclined 30°.

 

illustration of male Moschus chrysogaster, collected in Sichuan, southwestern China, by Mr. Drouin de Lhuys:

Huet, Pinx.; Chromolith: G. Severeyns
H. Milne Edwards, Recherches pour servir à l'histoire naturelle des mammifères: Atlas (1868-1874), Plate 20
H. Milne Edwards, Recherches pour servir à l'histoire naturelle des mammifères: Atlas (1868-1874), Plate 20

 

High-altitude, stony mountain slopes give alpine moschids access to:

  • Forests and woodlands of birch (Betula spp), fir (Abies spp), juniper (Juniperus spp), oak (Quercus spp), and pine (Pinus spp);
  • Shrublands of dwarf rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp).

But the alpine musk deer also appreciates such other lofty configurations as:

  • Grass- and thicket-lands;
  • Lichen-rich understories;
  • Rocky promontories;
  • Stony outcrops.

The niches in all of the above-mentioned habitats fulfill alpine moschid survival needs for:

  • Exercise;
  • Food;
  • Shelter;
  • Socialization;
  • Sustainability.

For example, they provide:

  • Forbs and leaves from Gaultheria shrubs and oak trees in autumn and winter;
  • Forbs, herbs, lichens, and mosses in spring and summer;
  • Home ranges of 741.32 acres (300 hectares) for does and 2,223.95 acres (900 hectares) for bucks.

 

Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana) shares nativity with Alpine Musk Deer:

Sagarmāthā National Park shares its northern international border with Qomolangma National Nature Preserve of Tibet Autonomous Region; both are included trans-boundary conservation area of Sacred Himalayan Landscape.
northeastern Nepal
northeastern Nepal

 

Cover always emerges as significant for population sustainability. It gives the alpine musk deer opportunities for:

  • Avoiding extreme weather;
  • Eluding predatory mammals;
  • Finding rest;
  • Mating;
  • Raising newborns.

For example, the mating season lasts from December to January. It leads to:

  • Calving in May and June after gestations of 6.5 months;
  • Nursing within thickets for 3 – 4 months;
  • Reaching sexual maturity at 18 – 24 months;
  • Realizing ever shorter life cycles and natural histories -- 3 years in the wild and 4 years on musk farms – in previously hypothesized  life expectancies of 12 – 20 years.

Key to survival will be dominance and maintenance of:

  • Dawn, midnight, and dusk foraging;
  • Double-hissing and kick-boxing in unavoidable combat;
  • Jumping, mountaineering, tree-climbing, walking.

 

Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata), endemic to Tibetan and Ladakh plateaus, preys upon Alpine Musk Deer:

illustration by Johannes Gerardus "J.G." Keulemans(June 8, 1842 – March 29, 1912)
St. George Mivart, Dogs, Jackals, Wolves, and Foxes (1800), Plate XXVIII, opp. p. 121
St. George Mivart, Dogs, Jackals, Wolves, and Foxes (1800), Plate XXVIII, opp. p. 121

 

Alpine musk deer offenses and self-defenses articulate:

  • Longer, stronger rear-legs;
  • Lower two-toed hoof, upper two-toed dewclaw per foot;
  • Scent glands;
  • 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, 6 molars evenly divided between the left and right lower jaw;
  • 2 fang-reminiscent canines, 6 premolars, 6 molars equally distributed between the left and right upper jaw.

Physical maturity assumes:

  • Body, shoulder, tail lengths respectively of 33.86 – 39.37 feet (86 – 100 centimeters), 20.08 – 20.87 inches (51 – 53 centimeters), 1.58 – 2.36 inches (4 – 6 centimeters);
  • Weights of 24.25 – 39.68 pounds (11 – 18 kilograms).

Camouflage-smart coloration bestows upon adulthood’s cautious and celeritous configurations:

  • Big eyes;
  • Dark nose;
  • Grizzled brown upper-sides;
  • Hairless muzzle;
  • Hairless, tuft-ended tail;
  • Rabbit-like ears;
  • Yellow- and white-striped chest, chin, throat.

 

Alpine Musk Deer homelands' changing landscapes: Xining skyline

Xining, anciently important site on Central Asian trade routes, is now largest city on Tibetan Plateau.
eastern Qinghai Province, northwestern China
eastern Qinghai Province, northwestern China

Conclusion

 

Admiration for Asia’s musk deer species goes back to ancient times. Moschids historically have ecological and economic roles within Earth’s biomes and cultures. Their obligate environmentalism as food-suppliers, plant-pruners, and vegetation-propagators oftentimes is eclipsed by the profitable popularity of:

  • Exotic meat;
  • Musky incenses, medicines, perfumes, soaps;
  • Trophy dewclaws, hooves, tusks;
  • Warm furs.

But the science- and technology-savvy, wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals of the twenty-first century make manifest an intelligent willingness to tackle such extreme challenges as:

  • Globally-warmed climate change;
  • Habitat fragmentation;
  • Industrial pollution.

They represent the world’s first generations consistently instructed and practiced in environmental education, sciences, and studies in the classroom and the field. They therefore understand how to reconcile environmental, faunal, floral, and human well-being.

 

Alpine Musk Deer homelands: south central Tibet's historic, spiritual landscapes ~

Yak (Bos grunniens), iconic bovid, and Yamdrok Lake, iconic freshwater lake, of Tibetan Plateau
south central Tibet Autonomous Region
south central Tibet Autonomous Region

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

East Himalayan Fir (Abies spectabilis) is a familiar tree to Alpine Musk Deer.

Namche Bazaar, Solukhumbu District, Sagarmatha Zone, northeastern Nepal
Namche Bazaar, Solukhumbu District, Sagarmatha Zone, northeastern Nepal

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Alpine Musk Deer homelands ~ Ancient fallen tree trunks crisscross bottom of Five Flower Lake in Jiuzhaigou Valley:

Name of national park and nature reserve Jiuzhaigou Valley ("Valley of Nine Villages") references 9 Tibetan villages along its length
Min Mountains, edge of Tibetan Plateau, northern Sichuan, southwestern China
Min Mountains, edge of Tibetan Plateau, northern Sichuan, southwestern China
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Encyclopedia of Deer by Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III

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Updated: 12/17/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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