Himalayan White Bellied Musk Deer (Moschus leucogaster) of Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal

by DerdriuMarriner

Alpine and Himalayan white-bellied musk deer species are endangered lookalikes. They differ slightly in skull size. The Himalayan moschid is the state animal of Uttarakhand, India.

Mountains attract people and wildlife. Human populations enjoy:
• Beauty in forested slopes;
• Peace in isolated cabins;
• Purity in uncontaminated environments;
• Wealth in agro-industrial development.

Wild animals and plants historically find:
• Ample resources;
• Clean bio-geographies;
• Effective cover.

Scientific advances and technological breakthroughs theoretically ensure the sustainable well-being of all Planet Earth's faunal, floral, and human populations. But science and technology sometimes have people-friendly impacts which are wildlife-unfriendly. For example, life is convenient and hospitable for mountain-dwelling peoples thanks to:
• Corridors between clustered woodlands;
• Expanses of cultivated properties;
• Stretches of paved roads.

But such amenities reconfigure habitats into compromised, disturbed, fragmented niches for mountain-dwelling wildlife. They increasingly stress the Himalayan Mountain Range's already endangered white-bellied musk deer (Moschus leucogaster).

male and female musk deer (Moschus): moschids enjoy mountains and mosses ~

illustration by Pierre Jacques Smit (1863–1960)
Richard Lydekker, The Royal Natural History, Vol. II section IV (1894), p. 396
Richard Lydekker, The Royal Natural History, Vol. II section IV (1894), p. 396


The term moschid appears in more scientific, technical literature regarding Asia's moss-eating, mountain-dwelling musk deer. The mammals in question are familiar to the continent's ancient cultures and modern peoples as sources of:

  • Delicious meat;

  • Fragrant incenses, medicines, and perfumes;

  • Trophy tusks;

  • Warm coats and gloves.

They count among the wildlife benefitting from ancient and modern identification systems. For example, they emerge as one of the genera described in 1758 by Swedish nobleman Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778), as:

  • Admirer of rural wildlife in his native village of Råshult in southern Sweden's Småland Province;

  • Author of Systema Naturae (“Nature's System”);

  • Biologist, botanist, zoologist;

  • Inventor of the modern scientific disciplines of ecology and taxonomy;

  • Physician.


Pioneer ethnologist and naturalist Brian Houghton Hodgson's examination of a Himalayan White-Bellied Musk Deer led to the species' official description in 1839:

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


Greco-Latin, scientific, taxonomic names accommodate binomial (“two-name”) and trinomial (“three-name”) nomenclatures. Binomial taxonomies articulate the organism in question's genus and species membership whereas trinomial systems identify:

  • Genus;

  • Species;

  • Subspecies.

Not all species divide into subspecies. For example, the taxonomy of the Himalayan white-bellied musk deer currently goes no further than the binomial level. The Himalayan white-bellied moschid's scientific classification therefore is Moschus leucogaster in recognition of the day-resting, evening- and night-tripping mammal's light-colored undersides. It results from the examination of specimens in 1839 by Lower Beech-born British scientist Brian Houghton Hodgson (February 1, 1800 – May 23, 1894), as:

  • Civil servant in India and Nepal;

  • Linguist in Nepali, Newari, Persian, Sanskrit;

  • Mammalogist;

  • Ornithologist;

  • Pioneer ethnologist and naturalist.


Specimens from which Brian Houghton Hodgson derived his official description were collected in Tibet, at Lhasa in the east, and Digurchee (Shigatse) in the west:

Tashilhunpo Monastery(Tibetan: བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷུན་པོ་), founded in Shigatse, Tibet's second largest city, in 1447 by 1st Dalai Lama, Gendun Drup (Tibetan: དགེ་འདུན་གྲུབ།, dge-'dun grub, 1391–1474); monastery's vastness housed 4,000 monks.
Shigatse (official name: Xigazê), Tsang Province, western Tibet Autonomous Region
Shigatse (official name: Xigazê), Tsang Province, western Tibet Autonomous Region


The specimens which inspire the Himalayan white-bellied musk deer's official presentation to wildlife-loving amateurs and specialists outside Asia are from Tibetan language-speakers in:

  • Digurchee;

  • Lhasa.

But the above-mentioned ruminants (mammals with four-part stomachs) also claim bio-geographies in:

  • Bhutan;

  • China;

  • India (especially Sikkim and Uttarakand);

  • Nepal.

The realization of life cycles and natural histories demands altitudes 8,202.1+ feet (2,500+ meters) above sea level. Appropriate niches within high-elevation habitats express such alpine configurations as:

  • Fell-fields;

  • Fir forests;

  • Meadows;

  • Plateaus;

  • Shrublands.

The Himalayan white-bellied musk deer finds no problems:

  • Bounding 656.17 – 984.25 feet (200 – 300 meters) in circles;

  • Climbing trees;

  • Foraging 1.86 – 4.35 miles (3 – 7 kilometers);

  • Jumping 19.69 feet (6 meters);

  • Scaling 20°+ slopes.


"The Thibetian Musk: Native of Asia": illustration by James Stewart (ca. October/November 1791 - May 1863); engraving by William Lizars (1788 - March 30, 1859)

Sir William Jardine, The Naturalist's Library, Vol. XXI, Plate III, opp. p. 116
Sir William Jardine, The Naturalist's Library, Vol. XXI, Plate III, opp. p. 116


Musk deer physiques lack:

  • Antlers;

  • Facial glands.

They possess as hallmark morphologies (external, internal structural features):

  • Gall bladder;

  • Longer rear-limbs stronger than shorter, thinner fore-legs;

  • Rabbit-like ears;

  • Rounded backs;

  • 2 canines, 6 premolars, 6 molars in the upper jaw;

  • 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, 6 molars in the lower jaw;

  • Two sets of two-toed hooves per foot, with the higher-placed dewclaws contributing to the moschid's distinct tracks.

They reveal:

  • Grey-white under-sides;

  • Sandy-brown upper-parts.

The absence of strongly white throat patches and stripes as well as the size of the skull serve to distinguish the Himalayan white-bellied musk deer from the almost identical alpine musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster).


Yellow-throated martens (Martes flavigula) are fearless omnivores which include Himalayan White-Bellied Musk Deer among their prey. ~

"Kharza. Martes (Charronia) flavigula aterrima Pall. attacking a musk deer": illustration by A.N. Komarov
VG Heptner et al., Mammals of the Soviet Union, Vol. II Part 1b (1967), Plate 6, opp. p. 912
VG Heptner et al., Mammals of the Soviet Union, Vol. II Part 1b (1967), Plate 6, opp. p. 912


Himalayan white-bellied musk deer sustainability demands:

  • Consuming forbs, grasses, leaves, lichens, mosses, seeds, twigs;

  • Eluding predatory grey wolves (Canis lupus), leopards (Panthera pardus), lynxes (Lynx lynx), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), yellow-throated martens (Martes flavigula);

  • Excrement- and scent-marking home ranges of 0.09+ square miles (0.22+ square kilometers).

It necessitates:

  • Breeding between November and January;

  • Delivering 1 – 2 newborns after gestating 185 – 195 days;

  • Nursing 2 months;

  • Weaning at 6 months.

Adulthood requires:

  • Male tusks 2.76 - 3.94 inches (7 – 10 centimeters) long;

  • Physiques 33.86 – 39.37 inches (86 – 100 centimeters) long;

  • Sexual maturity at 16 – 24 months;

  • Weights of 24.23 – 39.65 pounds (11 – 18 kilograms).


Scottish naturalist Sir William Jardine (1800-1874) noted Tibetan Musk Deer liking for Rhododendron dauricom, shrub with nodding purple flowers, common in pine forests, and ranging from Siberia south through Central Asia's deserts into China and Tibet. ~

Siberian rhododendron (Rhododendron dauricom): May 1, 1817 illustration by Sydenham Edwards
The Botanical Register, Vol. III (1817), Plate 194
The Botanical Register, Vol. III (1817), Plate 194


Impacted habitats and populations are side-effects of:

  • Modern-minded agro-industrialists;

  • Tradition-bound hunters of moschid meat, musk, and tusks.

Expanding urban and shrinking wildland interfaces betray wildlife-unfriendly agendas and interactions of modernists and traditionalists. Commitments to customer bases and living standards ironically contribute to the above-mentioned environmental stress and habitat fragmentation. And yet the ecological impacts do not have to be negative. For example, the People's Republic of China encourages musk deer farming for:

  • Extracting musk legally and non-fatally;

  • Protecting deer populations;

  • Supporting traditional revenue bases.

The north Indian state of Uttarakand likewise gets kudos for:

  • Conferring state animal status upon the Himalayan white-bellied musk deer;

  • Establishing the Askot and Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuaries.




Northern India's Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary includes a breeding station for Himalayan White-Bellied Musk Deer at Kharchula Kharak, about 6.2 miles (10 km) from Chopta:

Picturesque hill station of Chopta is one of entry points for sanctuary.
north central Uttarakhand, northern India
north central Uttarakhand, northern India



Scientific advances and technological breakthroughs theoretically help all of Planet Earth's faunal, floral, and human populations to:

  • Experience biological well-being;

  • Realize life expectancies.

But it is not always easy to reconcile priorities when decisions and policies impact different interests and populations. For example, commitments to political stability and socio-economic development may be contrary to the well-being of wildlife. Communication systems, cultivated lands, and custom-built residences understandably please a nation's human inhabitants even though their realization may disrupt wild populations and fragment wild habitats. The needs of people and wildlife nevertheless stand chances of being met without harm to either when citizens and officials commit to:

  • Environmental education;

  • Scientific research;

  • Wildlife-friendly parks, preserves, reserves, and sanctuaries.


Densely forested Manali Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Western Himalayas in North India, welcomes musk deer populations, including Himalayan White-Bellied Musk Deer:

Old Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara) at 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) in Manali Wildlife Sanctuary
Manali Wildlife Sanctuary, north central Himachal Pradesh, northern India
Manali Wildlife Sanctuary, north central Himachal Pradesh, northern India



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.


Himalayan White-Bellied Musk Deer claim landlocked northeast Indian state of Sikkim as one of their Himalayan homelands:

early morning view of Kanchenjunga, world's third largest peak, situated on Sikkim-Nepal border.
northwestern Sikkim, northeastern India
northwestern Sikkim, northeastern India

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 leucogaster Hodgson, 1839." Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2011 Annual Checklist. Reading, UK. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.catalogueoflife.org/col/details/species/id/19742795

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

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Das, Sarat Chandra. 1902. A Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet. Second edition, revised. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company; London: John Murray.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/journeytolhasace00dass

Edwards, R. 2010. "Himalayan Musk Deer (Moschus leucogaster)." ARKive.org. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

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Edwards, Sydenham. 1817. Botanical Register: Consisting of Coloured Figures of Exotic Plants, Cultivated in British Gardens; With Their History and Mode of Treatment. Volume III. London: James Ridgway.

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Environment and Development Desk, DIIR, CTA. 21 January 2014. “Musk Deer.” Tibet Nature Environmental Conservation Network. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

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Flerov, Konstantin Konstantinovich. 1952. Musk Deer and Deer. Moscow, Russia: Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

Geptner, V. G. (Vladimir Georgievich), N.P. Naumov, P.B. Yurgenson, A.A. Sludskii, A.F. Chirkova, and A.G. (Andrei Grigorvich) Bannikov. 2001. Mammals of the Soviet Union. Volume II, Part 1b: Carnivora (Weasels, Additional Species). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Libraries and The National Science Foundation.

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Green, M.J.B. 1987. "Some Ecological Aspects of a Himalayan Population of Musk Deer." Pp. 307-319 in The Biology and Management of Cervidae, edited by C.M. Wemmer. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

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.


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Species." Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 11:275-289.

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Jardine, Sir William. 1855 (?). The Naturalist's Library. Vol. XXI: Mammalia: Deer, Antelopes, Camels, etc. London: Henry G. Bohn.

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Lydekker, R. (Richard). 1900. The Great and Small Game of India, Burma, & Tibet. London: Rowland Ward, Limited.

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Lydekker, Richard. 1894. The Royal Natural History. Volume II section IV. London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co.

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Meng, X.; Zhou, C.; Hu, J.; Li, C.; Meng, Z.; Feng, J.; and Zhou, Y. 2006. "Musk Deer Farming in China." Animal Science 82:1-6.

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"Moschus chrysogaster leucogaster." uBio: Universal Biological Indexer and Organizer NamebankID 6511275. Woods Hole, MA: The Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

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"Moschus leucogaster (Himalayan Muskdeer)." ZipcodeZoo: Species Identifier 2514177. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

  • Available at: http://zipcodezoo.com/Animals/M/Moschus_leucogaster/

Moschus leucogaster Hodgson, 1839.” ITIS Report: Taxonomic Serial No. 898197. Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

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Myers, P.; Espinosa, R.; Parr, C.S.; Jones, T.; Hammond, G.S.; and Dewey, T.A. 2014. "Moschus leucogaster (Himalayan Musk Deer)." The Animal Diversity Web (Online). University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

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Pickrell, John. 7 September 2004. “Poachers Target Musk Deer for Perfumes, Medicines.” National Geographic.com: News. Retrieved December 15, 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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Su, B.; Wang, Y.X.; Lan, H.; Wang W.; and Zhang, Y. P. 2001. "Phylogenetic Study of Complete Cytochrome b Genes in Musk Deer (Genus Moschus) Using Museum Samples." Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 12(3):241-249.

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  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/13901/0

Yang, Q. S.; Meng, X.X.; Xia, L.; and Lin Feng, Z.J. 2003. "Conservation Status and Causes of Decline of Musk Deer (Moschus spp.) in China." Biological Conservation 109:333-342.


Himalayan White-Bellied Musk Deer homelands: Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary in northern India in Himalaya Highlands, with elevations ranging from 3,810 feet (1,160 meters) to 23,189 feet (7,068 meters):

National sanctuary is alternatively known as Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary in recognition of primary purpose of protecting endangered Himalayan Musk Deer.
Garhwal Himalaya, north central Uttarakhand, northern India
Garhwal Himalaya, north central Uttarakhand, northern India
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Updated: 12/15/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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