Afghan Fanged Deer (Moschus cupreus): To Suspected Extinction and Back in Nuristan Province

by DerdriuMarriner

Scary dental arrangements often free-associate with sharks and vampires. They usually inspire no thought of deer. But the Afghan fanged deer is back after 60 years without a trace.

Agro-industrially expanded urban interfaces and globally warmed climate change challenge the environmental interactions and population sustainability of all of Planet Earth's air, land, and water inhabitants.
• They explain worldwide increases in recordings of, and suspicions regarding, endangered and extinct wildlife in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
• Wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals in fact must follow certain guidelines and set protocols before concluding that a species -- whether endemic to an exclusive bio-geography or specific to multiple distributional ranges -- no longer exists anywhere in the whole wide, wild world.

So finding Afghanistan's famed fanged deer alive and well, not extinct and gone, offers heartwarming scenarios of experts jockeying to:
• Revise environment-related publications;
• Update 60-year-old research;
• Welcome sustainable populations.

Elusive musk deer did not escape the attention of Carl Linnaeus, honored as taxonomic genius ~

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

 

Musk deer can be considered special for many reasons. For example, their taxonomy-related back-story theoretically confers privileged status. They count among the wildlife whose identification comes in 1758 from Råshult village-born Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778), as:

  • Botanist;

  • Physician;

  • Proto-ecologist;

  • Taxonomist;

  • Zoologist.

Wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals generally deem it important to subject the earliest examples of Linnaean categorization systems to updates in the light of:

  • Scientific advances;

  • Technological breakthroughs.

But scientific methods and procedures do not get applied or followed regularly enough to ensure musk deer sustainability. Modern interactions and interfaces in fact result in all seven moss-eating, musk-releasing species in the genus Moschus being endangered by:

  • Habitat loss;

  • Illegal hunts.

 

John Edward Gray: describer of the Moschidae family in 1821.

John Edward Gray
John Edward Gray

 

Moschus alone claims membership in the Moschidae family described in 1821 by Walsall-born British scientist John Edward Gray (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875), as:

  • Medical student;

  • Museum entomologist;

  • Zoological keeper, publisher, taxonomist.

Asia hosts all seven species. Northern- and southern-based species include:

  • anuiensis (Wang, Hu & Yan, 1982), Anhui musk deer of China;

  • berezovskii (Flerov, 1929), dwarf and forest musk deer of China, Vietnam;

  • chrysogaster (Hodgson, 1839), Alpine musk deer of China;

  • fuscus (Li, 1981), black and dusky musk deer of Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal;

  • leucogaster (Hodgson, 1839), Himalayan white-bellied musk deer of Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Sikkim;

  • moschiferus (Linnaeus, 1758), Siberian musk deer of Korea, Manchuria, Mongolia, Siberia.

 

Musk deer's unusual fangs are used by males during breeding season: photo of lookalike Siberian Musk Deer released by Wildlife Conservation Society in lieu of photo of Afghan Fanged Deer ~

The only photo on record of a wild specimen of M. cupreus from Afghanistan is that of the bloody carcass of an adult female hunted in July 2009.
Julie Larsen Maher © WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)
Julie Larsen Maher © WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

 

The west Asia-based species cupreus also joins the genus Moschus. Kashmir musk deer owe common designations to the species' first known European-based identifications through specimens from the namesake valley between the Great Himalayas and Pir Panjal Ranges. The scientific nomenclature reflects the expertise of Ealing-born English scientist Peter Grubb (1942 – December 23, 2006), as:

  • Collaborator with London-born Australia-based bio-/palaeo-anthropologist Colin Peter Groves (born June 24, 1942);

  • Researcher of giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea) of Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles;

  • Specialist in Soay sheeps (Ovis aries) of St. Kilda Archipelago, Scotland;

  • Taxonomist of African and Asian mammals.

The Zoological Society of London remembers Peter as the recipient of:

  • Thomas Henry Huxley Award, 1968;

  • The Stamford Raffles Award, 2006.

 

Identification of musk deer sighted in eastern Afghanistan's Parun Valley on May 13, 1948 by Knut Paludan of Third Danish Expedition to Central Asia was confirmed as Moschus cupreus on May 21 by showing this drawing to Malik (chief) of village of Kustaki.

(Jerry Hassinger, A Survey of the Mammals of Afghanistan [1973], p. 165)
R.A. Sterndale, Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon (1884), p. 493
R.A. Sterndale, Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon (1884), p. 493

 

The Kashmir musk deer also claims as distributional ranges within the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

  • Kunar and Laghman Provinces, per data-driven geo-models and transect surveys;

  • Nuristan Province, per historical and recent observations.

As is the case in India and Pakistan, the antler-less herbivore favors remote, rough, rugged, steep, vegetated, wooded slopes at:

  • Altitudes of 3,772.97 – 11,482.94 feet (1,150 – 3,500 meters) above sea level;

  • Inclines of 20°+.

The evening- and night-time feeders frequent niches within such habitats as:

  • Alpine scrublands;

  • Coniferous (Pinophyta division) and fir (Abies spp) forests;

  • Cushion plant-dotted fell-fields;

  • Dense juniper (Juniperus spp) and rhododendron (Rhododendron spp) shrublands;

  • High-altitude plateaus;

  • Meadows;

  • Remnant oak (Quercus spp) and pine (Pinus spp) forests.

 

conifer-juniper stands in eastern Afghanistan: sightings of Moschus cupreus in 2008 occurred in steep terrains flush with Juniperus squamata and at upper edge of coniferous forest.

Jaji (Zazi) District, Paktia Province, eastern Afghanistan: southwest of Nuristan
Jaji (Zazi) District, Paktia Province, eastern Afghanistan: southwest of Nuristan

 

The common name Afghan fanged deer, for Afghanistan's Kashmir musk deer, communicates hallmark musk deer features:

  • Absent antlers and facial glands;
  • Present musk-releasing glands and tusk-like teeth.

Solitary life cycles express prevailing configurations within moschid (musk deer) natural histories. Afghanistan's skittish ruminant (mammal with four-part stomach) inhabits scent-marked niches within loose communities. Mating produces in 150 – 180 days one fawn whose first month passes motionless in mother-defended hideaways. Physical and sexual maturity yields bodies:

  • Measuring 31.49 – 39.37 inches (80 – 100 centimeters);
  • Reaching 19.69 – 27.56 inches (50 – 70 centimeters) at the shoulders;
  • Sporting 6 incisors on the lower jaw and 4 canines, 12 pre-molars, 12 molars equally distributed between both jaws;
  • Weighing 15.43 – 37.48 pounds (7 – 17 kilograms).

 

landscape of eastern Nuristan Province: Nuristan's remoteness, with thick forests and steep mountain slopes, provides ideal habitats for reclusive Moschus cupreus.

Nuristan Province: June 2, 2012
Nuristan Province: June 2, 2012

 

The Wildlife Conservation Society of Bronx, New York accepts a possible 501.93 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) as Afghan fanged deer bio-geographies. The projections assume sufficient availability of:

  • Flowers;
  • Grasses;
  • Leaves;
  • Lichens;
  • Mosses.

They consider the seesawing of:

  • Human-generated habitat fragmentation;
  • Human-induced population decline.

They describe the use of traps and weapons to kill Afghan fanged deer for:

  • Enamel tusk-like canines;
  • Fleshy body parts;
  • Musk-filled scent-glands.

But they do not tally populations because of:

  • The last known twentieth-century sighting dating from Danish scientists in 1948;
  • The only twenty-first-century viewing occurring six decades later.

The October 22, 2014 issue of Oryx indeed reports the witnessing by WCS staff and WCS-trained locals of:

  • One juvenile;
  • Three males;
  • Two females.

 

Sights of Moschus cupreus Afghanistan's northeastern Nuristan Province in 2008 occurred in landscapes lush with rhododendrons.

flower of common rhododendron or pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum): species native to Aghanistan
flower of common rhododendron or pontic rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum): species native to Aghanistan

Conclusion

 

Afghan fanged deer appeal to wildlife-lovers. Their admirers are in favor of sustainable populations according to different agendas. Environmentalists cherish diversity. Entrepreneurs contrastingly extol the deer’s marketability as:

  • Culinary delicacies;
  • Musky aphrodisiacs, incenses, perfumes, traditional medicines;
  • Trophy tusks.

Afghan fanged deer generate good environmental press by:

  • Avoiding predatory confrontations since longer back-legs and shorter fore-legs negotiate all terrains;
  • Using tusk-like canines to fake-joust with competitors during mating seasons.

They contrastingly get good entrepreneurial press since poachers expect:

  • 0.81 ounces (23 grams) of musk per pod;
  • $20,000 – 45,000 per pound (2.2 kilograms) of musk.

Halting the killing of 60,000 musk deer for every 14.11 ounces (400+ grams) of musk requires:

  • Environmental education;
  • Governmental protection;
  • Scientific research;
  • Wildlife-loving activism.

 

Nuristan: Remote province on southern slopes of Hindu Kush Mountains in northeastern Afghanistan is location of 21st century sightings of Moschus cupreus.

Nuristan Province: October 4, 2010
Nuristan Province: October 4, 2010

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.

 

Glands of Moscus cupreus are known to be sold in market at Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar, province sharing southern borders with Laghman and Kunar provinces ~

young Pashai girl: Pashai are ethnolinguistic group in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Kunar, Laghman, and Nangarhar provinces, but also in Nuristan.
Dara-I-Nur (Pashto: دره نور), northern Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan
Dara-I-Nur (Pashto: دره نور), northern Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan

Sources Consulted

 

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“Afghan Fanged Deer Spotted After 60-Year Absence: First Kashmir Musk Deer Seen Since 1948.” The Inquisitr News: Animal News > 1 November 2014. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Algar, Jim. 31 October 2014. "First Afghan Fanged Deer Spotted After 60 Years." Tech Times.com. New York, NY: Tech Times LLC. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Bald, Linsey. 1 November 2014. "Afghan Fanged Deer Spotted After Six Decades: 'Vampire' Deer in Halloween Debut." Examiner.com: News / Top News. AXS Digital Group LLC. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Balthasar, Felix. 1 November 2014. “Kashmir Musk Deer Spotted in Afghanistan, First Sighting in 60 Years.” Maine News: Science. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Bravo, Kristina. “Fanged Deer Pops Up Six Decades After Last Sighting.” Yahoo! News. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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DDN Correspondent. 1 November 2014. "Fanged Afghan Deer Sighted After 60 Years." Delhi Daily News.com: Sci & Tech. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Farrell, Richard. 31 October 2014. "First Afghan Fanged Deer Seen in More Than 60 Years." Discovery.com: Animals > Endangered Species. Discovery Communications, LLC. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Feltman, Rachel. 31 October 2014. “Fanged Deer Pops up in Afghanistan, 60 Years After Its Last Appearance.” The Washington Post: Speaking of Science. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Fernandez, Kristina. 1 November 2014. “Fanged Afghan Deer Believed Extinct Sighted After 60 Years.” China Topix.com: Science. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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

 

Graham, Karen. “Thought to be Extinct, the Fanged Deer of Afghanistan Lives on.” Digital Journal.com: Science. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.digitaljournal.com/science/thought-to-be-extinct-the-fanged-deer-of-afghanistan-lives-on/article/412235

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.

 

Hassinger, Jerry D. 6 April 1973. "A Survey of the Mammals of Afghanistan, Resulting from the 1965 Street Expedition (Excluding Bats)." Fieldiana Zoology 60:1162. Chicago IL: Field Museum of Natural History Press.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/surveyofmammalso60hass

Hays, Brooks. 31 October 2014. “Fanged Deer Spotted in Afghanistan, First Sighting in 60 Years.” UPI.com: Science News. Washington, D.C.: United Press International, Inc. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2014/10/31/Fanged-deer-spotted-in-Afghanistan-first-sighting-in-60-years/4541414799739/

“Kashmir Muskdeer (Moschus cupreus).” ARKive.org: Species > Mammals. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.arkive.org/kashmir-muskdeer/moschus-cupreus/

Kelly, Steve. 1 November 2014. “Rare Deer with FANGS Feared Extinct Is Spotted for First Time in Over 60 Years.” Mirror.Co.UK: News > Weird News > Rare Animals. London, England: The Daily Mirror, MGN Ltd., Trinity Mirror plc. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/rare-deer-fangs-feared-extinct-4547111

Maher, Julie Larsen. “Musk Deer.” EurekAlert!.com: Multimedia > Public Releases. Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

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Ostrowski, Stephane; Rahmani, Haqiq; Ali, Jan Mohammad; Ali, Rita; and Zahler, Peter. 22 October 2014. “Musk deer Moschus cupreus Persist in the Eastern Forests of Afghanistan.” Oryx / FirstView Article 1-6. Available on CJO2014. doi:10.1017/S0030605314000611.

 

Pickrell, John. 7 September 2004. “Poachers Target Musk Deer for Perfumes, Medicines.” National Geographic.com: News. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

  • Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/09/0907_040907_muskdeer.html

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.

 

Sautner, Stephen; and Delaney, John. 31 October 2014. “Strange, Fanged Deer Persists in Afghanistan.” WCS.org: Press > Press Releases. Bronx, NY: Wildlife Conservation Society. Retrieved November 3, 2014. Available at:

  • http://www.wcs.org/press/press-releases/strange-vampire-deer.aspx

  • http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/wcs-sfd103114.php
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  • http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141031120449.htm

Sterndale, Robert A. (Armitage). 1884. Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon. Calcutta, India: Thacker, Spink, and Co.; Bombay, India: Thacker and Co., Limited; London, England: W. Thacker and Co.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/details/naturalhistoryof00ster

Timmins, R.J.; and Duckworth, J.W. 2008. "Moschus cupreus." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Retrieved November 3, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/136750/0

Zurko, Roz. 1 November 2014. "Afghan Fanged Deer Not Seen in 60 Years Rediscovered: Fangs for Mating Ritual." Examiner.com: News / Top News. AXS Digital Group LLC. Retrieved November 3, 2014. 

  • Available at: http://www.examiner.com/article/afghan-fanged-deer-not-seen-60-years-rediscovered-fangs-for-mating-ritual

 

Stark contrasts in Laghman Province, designated as potential site of Moschus cupreus habitats: lush greenery of communities clustering around waterways against backdrop of deserts and mountains ~

Based on their 2008 data-drive geographical model, Wildlife Conservation Society-University of Leeds' School of Geography survey team predicted 14.4% suitable habitats for musk deer in Laghman, province sharing Nuristan's southern border.
photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse
photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse
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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A survey of the mammals of Afghanistan, resulting from the 1965 Street Expedition (excluding bats) by Jerry D. Hassinger

Well-written survey of specimens from 1965 expedition for Chicago's renowned Field Museum of Natural History
Afghanistan wildlife

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 11/05/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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