Black and Dusky Musk Deer (Moschus fuscus): Endangered in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal

by DerdriuMarriner

Asia's black dusky musk deer looks dark. The endangered, moss-eating musk-maker seeks lofty forests and gorges. But agro-industrialists and hunters threaten the remotest habitats.

The word deer brings to mind conflicting images. It generally calls forth strong opinions against or for the plant-eating animal's:
• geographical appearances;
• population size;
• urban behaviors.

It typically encourages cold-weather associations with furs, meats and trophies.
It fosters warm-weather complaints by farmers and gardeners against the agile, even-toed runner's impressive ability to find and sample a cultivator's freshest flowers and tastiest leaves.

A similar appreciation for dead deer parts is echoed by agro-industrialists and musk-hunters in urbanizing and wild locales elsewhere in the world. The most serious occurrences of this nature may be found in the forested mountain habitats of such moss-eating, musk-making moschids as the black and dusky musk deer species of:
• Bhutan;
• China;
• India;
• Myanmar;
• Nepal.

Dusky Musk Deer homelands in Myanmar's northernmost state, Kachin, include sources of Irrawaddy River in Himalayan glaciers.

bird's eye view of Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady), Myanmar's defining, iconic river
bird's eye view of Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady), Myanmar's defining, iconic river


Strictly speaking, deer species claim:

  • Cranial appendages to frontal bones, as horned livestock in the Pecora mammalian infraorder;

  • Even-numbered toetips, as hooved members in the Artiodactyla order and Ungulata superorder;

  • Four-part stomachs, as rechewed-cud specialists in the Ruminantia suborder.

But scientists differentiate between deer and true deer. The second-mentioned designation evokes such iconic Cervidae family members as:

  • Black-tailed (Odocoileus hemionus), fallow (Dama dama), red (Cervus elaphus), roe (Capriolus capriolus), white-tailed (Odocoileus virginianus) deer;

  • Caribou, reindeer (Rangifer tarandus);

  • Chital (Axis spp);

  • Elk, wapiti (Cervus canadensis);

  • Moose (Alces alces);

  • Pudú (Pudu spp).

The first-mentioned term identifies:

  • Africa's and Asia's 10 mouse deer species in the Tragulidae family;

  • Asia's seven musk deer species in the Moschidae family.


John Edward Gray (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875): British zoologist is credited with formal description of Moschidae family.

undated photo
undated photo


The musk deer more technically gets called moschid. The term honors the moss-eating, musk-making mammal's membership in:

  • The Moschidae family formally described in 1821 by John Edward Gray (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875), as Walsall-born British physician, publisher, taxonomist, and zoology keeper at London's British Museum;

  • The Moschus genus officially identified in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778), as Råshult-born Swedish biologist, botanist, physician, proto-ecologist, proto-taxonomist, and zoologist.

Moschus is the only surviving family member. All seven of the genus's known species lead endangered life cycles and natural histories in Asia. Black and dusky moschids number among the threatened fauna and flora native to:

  • Bhutan;

  • China;

  • India;

  • Myanmar;

  • Nepal.


Range map of the black musk deer (Moschus fuscus)

Range based upon Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Vol. 2 (2011) and IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2011)
Range based upon Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Vol. 2 (2011) and IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2011)


Certain habitat niches attract black and dusky moschids to:

  • Bhutan;
  • Eastern Nepal;
  • Northeastern India (especially Arunachal Pradesh);
  • Northern Myanmar (especially Khakaborazi National Park);
  • Northwestern Yunnan (Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan counties);
  • Southeastern Tibet.

The black and dusky musk deer indeed favors:

  • Alpine and sub-alpine habitats;
  • Elevations 8,530.18 – 13,779.53 feet (2,600 – 4,200 meters) above sea level;
  • High-altitude rocky ridges, tree-lines;
  • Moderately steep, stony slopes;
  • Monthly actual evapotranspiration of 37.71 inches (957.72 millimeters), precipitation of 6.43 inches (163.32 millimeters), temperature of 42.37°F (5.76°C) in temperature.

They inhabit:

  • Dense, rhododendron-dominated shrublands;
  • Intact coniferous forests.

They need thick vegetative cover to elude such patient, persistent predators as:

  • Leopards;
  • Lynxes;
  • People (especially agro-industrialists and meat, musk, trophy, and tusk hunters);
  • Wolverines;
  • Wolves;
  • Yellow-throated martens.


Dusky Musk Deer homelands: Nuranang Falls, also known as Bong Bong Falls or Jang Falls, is located in disputed territory, claimed by both China and India ~

Nuranang Falls originate in Sela Pass, high altitude mountain pass, at elevation of 13,680 feet (4,170 meters).
Tawang District, northwestern Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India
Tawang District, northwestern Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India


Acute senses, camouflaged physiques, and excellent reflexes contribute to black and dusky musk deer survival in difficult terrain against savvy predators. Black and dusky moschids count upon:

  • Avoidance through sight-, smell-, sound-detection;
  • Escape by climbing, jumping, walking;
  • Intimidation by hoof-scratching and pellet-, scent-, and urine-marking communal excrement sites, feeding paths, and watering holes as well as overlapping home and territorial ranges.

They do not apply predictably to offense or self-defense:

  • Scent glands at or near eyes, limbs, nose, tail;
  • Two fang-like, tusk-functioning upper canines.

The first-mentioned potential defensive and offensive features figure in:

  • Cartography;
  • Communication;
  • Information-gathering;
  • Mating.

The second-mentioned possibility operates as a mate-attracting attribute since male tusks protrude during mating seasons and serve that overriding purpose.


Asian golden cat (Pardofelis temminckii, syn. Catopuma temminckii): Overlapping with Dusky Musk Deer in such homelands as Bhutan, India (Arunachal Pradesh), and Myanmar, feline carnivore preys upon small deer, such as musk deer.

Edinburgh Zoo, southeastern Scotland
Edinburgh Zoo, southeastern Scotland


Female black and dusky moschids gestate 185 – 195 days before delivering in June or July one yearly single or twin birth. The spotted newborn hovers around 17.64 ounces (500 grams) in weight. The realization of 20-year life expectancies necessitates:

  • Accessing the mother’s milk the first 3 – 4 months;
  • Becoming respectively physically and sexually mature at 6 and 18 months;
  • Claiming homes within 741.32-acre (300-hectare) territories overlapping with those of females, newborns, and youths;
  • Displaying adult lengths of 27.56 – 39.37 inches (70 – 100 centimeters) and weights of 22.05 – 33.07 pounds (10 – 15 kilograms);
  • Engaging in growling, hissing, kicking, tusking during forced combat;
  • Foraging for forbes, grasses, lichens, mosses;
  • Grooming;
  • Having 6 incisors, 4 canines, 12 premolars, 12 molars.


Black Dusky Musk Deer (Moschus fuscus), an endangered species with homelands in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal.

Kunming Natural History Museum of Zoology, Yunnan Province, southwestern China
Kunming Natural History Museum of Zoology, Yunnan Province, southwestern China


The world’s known wildlife carries two sets of names:

  • Binomial (Greco-Latin, scientific, taxonomic), as Moschus fuscus (per C. Li, 1981) in this case;
  • Common (non-scientific, popular), as black and dusky musk deer in this instance.

The two naming systems do not need to emphasize the same features, which typically refer to:

  • Distribution ranges;
  • Physical features.

But in regard to the moschid in question, the expert and non-expert nomenclatures merge in emphasizing the adult black and dusky musk deer’s signature coloration and scent. They neglect such genus-specific hallmarks as:

  • Arched back;
  • Big eyes;
  • Black nose with hairless muzzle;
  • Dark uppersides;
  • Light undersides;
  • Longer, stronger rear-limbs;
  • Pronounced rump;
  • Rabbit-like ears;
  • Shorter, thinner fore-limbs;
  • Sloped withers (ridge between shoulder blades).


Previously Dusky Musk Deer (Moschus fuscus) were sometimes considered as subspecies of Alpine Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster):

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



The black and dusky musk deer contributes to ecological and economic well-being. Like all of Asia’s moschids, the species in question emerges as a key player in:

  • High-altitude vegetation control;
  • Mountain food webs.

Similar to all other mule deer species, the black and dusky moschid functions as a key source of:

  • Delicious flesh;
  • Musky fragrances for incenses, medicines, perfumes, soaps;
  • Trophy tusks;
  • Warm furs.

The two roles nevertheless furnish contradictory and rough overlaps in:

  • Agro-industrialist and tradition-bound interactions;
  • Urban and wildland interfaces.

Human geographical expansions and population increases generally have opposite effects upon wildlife bio-geographies and sustainability. But China’s encouragement of musk farms over deer kills is a step in the direction of wildland and wildlife protection.


One of China's Musk Deer Farms is located in Dujiangyan, in central Sichuan:

Inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, Dujiangyan Irrigation Project, located in city's northwestern area, comprises an irrigation infrastructure built in 256 BCE.
Dujiangyan Irrigation Project
Dujiangyan Irrigation Project



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Himalayan Alpine Fir (Abies densa), also known as Bhutan Fir or Sikkim Fir, is familiar flora in Dusky Musk Deer's eastern Himalayan homelands.

Wangdicholing Palace, Bumthang District, central Bhutan
Wangdicholing Palace, Bumthang District, central Bhutan

Sources Consulted


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Bisby, F.A.; Roskov, Y.R.; Orrell, T.M.; Nicolson, D.; Paglinawan, L.E.; Bailly, N.; Kirk, P.M.; Bourgoin, T.; Baillargeon, G.; and Ouvrard, D. (red.). 2011. "Moschus fuscus Li, 1981." Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2011 Annual Checklist. Reading, UK. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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“Black Musk Deer.” Earth’s Endangered Creatures: Species Profiles: Asia. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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Cuvier, Fréderic. 1816 - 1829. Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles: Planches. 2e partie: règne organisé. Zoologie, Mammiféres. Paris: F.G. Levrault.

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“Dusky Musk Deer (Moschus fuscus).” Observations > Species. California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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“Dusky Musk Deer Pictures and Facts.” The Website of Everything: Animals > Mammals > Artiodactyla > Moschidae > Moschus. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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Environment and Development Desk, DIIR, CTA. 21 January 2014. “Musk Deer.” Tibet Nature Environmental Conservation Network. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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Finn, Frank. n.d. The Wild Beasts of the World. Illustrated with 100 Reproductions in Full Colours from Drawings by Louis Sargent, Cuthbert E. Swan, and Winifred Austin. Volume Two. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack.

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Groves, C.P. 2011. "Family Moschidae (Musk-Deer)." In Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2: Hooved Mammals edited by D.E. Wilson and R.A. Mittermeier. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.

Groves, C.P.; and Grubb, P. 1987. "Relationships of Living Deer." Pp. 1-40 in Biology and Management of the Cervidae edited by C. Wemmer. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.


Groves, C. P.; Yingxiang, W.; and Grubb, P. 1995. "Taxonomy of Musk-Deer, Genus Moschus (Moschidae, Mammalia)." Acta Theriologica Sinica 15(3):181-197.


Grubb, P. 2005. "Artiodactyla." Pp. 637-722 in Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd Edition) Edited by D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.


Hassanin, Alexandre; and Douzery, Emmanuel J.P. 2003. "Molecular and Phylogenies of Ruminantia and the Alterntive Position of the Moschidae." Systematic Biology 52(2):206-228. doi:10.1080/10635150390192726

Li, C. 1981. "On a New Species of Musk Deer from China." Zoological Research 2:157-161. Kunming, Yunnan Province, China: Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Maakestad, Kari. 2005. "Moschus fuscus: Dusky Musk Deer (Online)." Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. 2005. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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Milne-Edwards, Henri, et Alphonse Milne-Edwards. 1868 - 1874. Recherches pour servir à l'histoire naturelle des mammifères: comprenant des considérations sur la classification de ces animaux. Tome seconde: Atlas. Paris: G. Masson.

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"Moschus fuscus: Black Musk Deer." Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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“Musk Deer.” I Love Wildlife in India > Indian Wild Animals > Deer. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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Myers, P.; Espinosa, R.; Parr, C.S.; Jones, T.; Hammond, G.S.; and Dewey, T.A. 2014. "Moschus fuscus: Dusky Musk Deer (Online)." The Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. Baltimore, MD; and London, England: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Pickrell, John. 7 September 2004. “Poachers Target Musk Deer for Perfumes, Medicines.” National News. Retrieved December 18, 2014.

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Rue, Dr. Leonard Lee III. 2003. The Encyclopedia of Deer: Your Guide to the World's Deer Species, Including Whitetails, Mule Deer, Caribou, Elk, Moose, and More. Stillwater MN: Voyageur Press.

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Wang, Y.; Ma, S.; and Li, C. 1993. "The Taxonomy, Distribution and Status of Forest Musk Deer in China." Pp. 22-30 in Deer of China. Biology and Management, edited by N. Ohtaishi and H.-I. Sheng. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier.

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Dusky Musk Deer overlap in homelands, such as southeastern Tibet and northeastern Bhutan, with Black-Necked Tibetan Cranes (Grus nigricollis).

Yamdrok Lake, southeastern Tibet Autonomous Region
Yamdrok Lake, southeastern Tibet Autonomous Region
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

The Encyclopedia of Deer by Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III

This comprehensive new reference work provides a unique source of information about all 45 of the worlds deer species.
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
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Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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