Musk deer

Siberian Musk Deer - Moschus moschiferus

Family:
Musk deer (Artiodactyla Moschidae)
Status:
Vulnerable

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Taxonomic status

Scientific name

Moschus moschiferus

Common name

Siberian Musk Deer

Comments on the subspecies

Subspecies

  • Moschus moschiferus moschiferus (Siberia)
  • Moschus moschiferus turovi (Russian Far East)
  • Moschus moschiferus arcticus (Verkhoyansk Ridge)
  • Moschus moschiferus sachalinensis (Sakhalin Island)

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Species information

Physical characteristics

Body Length 86-100 cm
Shoulder Height 52-55 cm
Tail Length 4-6 cm
Weight 11-18 kg


The overall colouration of animals varies from a light yellowish brown to almost black, although a dark brown is most common. The head is generally lighter. A pair of whitish stripes extends from the chin down the chest to the belly, while a scattering of lighter spots may be present on the back and sides. Young are born intensely spotted on their upper body, with adult colouration reached gradually by 1,5 years of age.

The hind legs are much longer and more powerful than the front legs, which causes the back to slope, and is an adaptation to saltatorial (jumping) locomotion. The hindquarters, which are highly arched, may be 5-10 cm higher than the shoulders. This feature is further emphasized by the small chest and thin neck which is carried low. The head is elongated and small relative to the body. The features of the face, however, are oversized. The eyes are large and the ears are long and rounded, which have a wide range of mobility.

Antlers are not present in this species, however, the sharp upper canines of adult males grow very long up to 10 cm and project well below the chin in older individuals (the canines of females are not visible).

The tail is very small and is often hidden in the fur on the rump. The lateral hooves (dewclaws) are well developed in this species, and are usually seen in the footprints of standing animals.

Habitat, behaviour, food and reproduction

Ecology and Behavior

Inhabiting mountainous taiga (broadleaf and needle forest), these animals are typically found in forests of dense birch, larch and shrub-covered slopes in sub-alpine zones. In Russia it inhabits the mid-mountain belt where it prefers dark coniferous forest with dense shrubs and rocky outcrops, using such rocky areas to escape from predators.

However, lichens are the main part of Siberian musk deer diet, accounting for up to 99% of the food intake in winter. During the rest of the year the percentage of lichen in the diet is still high, but these deer also consume grasses, leaves, shoots, bark, branches, coniferous needles and mushrooms. When feeding it is able to climb on inclined trunks up to 3-4 m above ground. Population density is highly correlated with the availability of food and hiding places.

Musk deer have a thick coat for insulation and are well adapted for walking through deep snow. When chased, musk deer head for rocky terrain, and will try to reach an inaccessible crag or a shelter. If neither is available, the animal begins to run in circles. Although they can run exeptionally fast, musk deer tire after only 200-300 metres.

They are primarily active at dusk and dawn. While foraging, a musk deer may travel 3-7 km per night, generally returning to the same spot (a "lair") every morning. Individuals inhabit home ranges between 200 and 300 hectares in size, sticking to the boundaries steadfastly. The size of the home range decreases markedly during the second half of winter. Seasonal migrations are minimal if present at all.

Reproduction and Group structure

They are solitary, though they sometimes occur in small groups (no more than 3 individuals) of a female with her young. In the Altai, family groups consist usually of an adult permanent couple and the young of the year.

The territory of female and young lies within the territory of a male. Sometimes the group includes young males up to 2 years old, that are submissive to the adult male, but actively participate in making and protecting common territory.

Reproduction starts in December, although some females do not mate until March. Females gestate for just over 6 months, and give birth to 1-3 offpsring, usually in May and June. Young wean at 3-4 months, and are mature at 15-17 months. Animals live in the wild for 10-14 years.

Gestation Period 6,5 months
Young per Birth Often 2, sometimes 1 or 3
Weaning At 3-4 months
Sexual Maturity 15-17 months
Life span 10-14 years, up to 20 years in captivity

 

Predation

Besides humans; they are preyed upon by a suite of predators including Lynx, Wolverine, Yellow-throated Marten, and rarely Wolf, Tiger, and Bear.

Population size and trends

Population density is highly correlated with the availability of food and hiding places.
The average population density is about 0,6 animals per km², although under favourable conditions this may be as high as 4-8,5 animals per km².

During the 1920's and 1930's numbers were sharply reduced through hunting. In the 1970's the Mongolian population size was estimated to be between 60,000 and 80,000 animals. In 1986, the Institute of Biology of the Mongolian Academy of Science assessed musk deer population sizes in over 53,000 hectares across 63 units of six provinces, resulting in an estimate of approximately 44,000 individuals.

The population size in Mongolia continued to decrease: between 1990 and 2000, densities fell from six per 5 km², to one per 5 km² in one observed population.

Likewise, all populations in Russia are considered declining. Population estimates from the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife in 1999 put the Sakhalin population at about 600-650 individuals (still declining), the Eastern Siberian population at about 27,000-30,000 individuals, and the population in the Russian Far East at up to 150,000 individuals.

Equivalent data appear not to be available for China or the Koreas, but these species is believed to be declining heavily there also. It is believed to be contracting in range in China, and had apparently disappeared from Xinjiang by the end of the 19th century.

AreaNumbersDevelopment
World230,000Declining
Russian Federation, Sakhalin population600-500Declining
Russian Federation, the Eastern Siberian population27,000-30,000Declining
Russian Federation, Far Eastern population150,000Declining
Mongolia44,000Declining
China?Declining
Democratic People's Republic of Korea?Declining
Republic of Korea?Declining
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Distribution: maps, historical and current

Countries

Landscapes

Interactive map

Moschus moschiferus - Siberian Musk Deer: current distribution
Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species


View Siberian Musk Deer - current distribution in a larger map

Further map information

Range map Siberian Musk deer

Historical distribution

No clear information is found available about historical distribution of Musk Deer.

Current distribution

This species occurs widely in the Russian Federation (Siberia and the Far East), extreme eastern Kazakhstan, northeastern and northwestern China, Mongolia, Republic of Korea and Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Records from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Viet Nam refer to other species in the genus Moschus.

In Mongolia, Moschus moschiferus moschiferus is found regionally in the forested habitats in the northern Mongol Altai mountain range, Hangai mountain range, Hentii and Hövsgöl mountain ranges, and possibly around Han Höhii Mountain in the western Hangai mountain range.

Four subspecies occur in Russia:

  • Moschus moschiferus moschiferus (Siberia)
  • Moschus moschiferus turovi (Russian Far East)
  • Moschus moschiferus arcticus (Verkhoyansk Ridge)
  • Moschus moschiferus sachalinensis (Sakhalin Island)

Two subspecies are found in China:

  • Moschus moschiferus moschiferus in Xinjiang (Altai mountains), Nei Mongol, and Heilongjiang
  • Moschus moschiferus parvipes along the border with North Korea in the Lesser Xing'an and Changbai mountain ranges, as far west as Ordos Plateau. Moschus moschiferus parvipes occurs widely in both North and South Korea

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Threats

Economical

As the common name suggests, males secrete musk from a preputial gland (the "musk-pod"). This musk forms the basis for many perfumes, and is highly valued for traditional medicines. Each male produces only around 25 g of musk. Although this musk can be extracted from live animals, most "musk-gatherers" kill the animals to remove the entire sac.

Illegal, unsustainable hunting for musk is the principal threat to this species. An estimated 25,000 adult males were killed through harvesting and illegal hunting between 1990 and 2001. As hunting is often indiscriminate of sex and age, four to five Siberian musk deer are estimated to be killed per musk-pod harvested. As cheaper, synthetic alternatives for making perfumes are becoming more popular, use of musk in the perfume industry is decreasing, but its value for cardiac, circulatory and respiratory traditional medicines remains high. During the 1970's, the international market value of musk reached up to $45,000 USD per kg. Between 1995 and 2001, the number of traders in musk increased six-fold, following a similar increase in the market price of musk-pods.

Mining

Resource extraction such as mining is not causing a substantial loss of habitat at present, but the resulting human disturbance from this activity does constitute a threat.

Habitat fragmentation

Habitat fragmentation may also threaten the species.

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Conservation information

IUCN Red List

Vulnerable: A2d+3d+4d

EU habitat directive

-

CITES

Appendix II: species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.

EU Wildlife trade regulation EC Reg. 338/97

-

Bern convention

-

Bonn convention

-

Conservation status

In the 1970's the population size was estimated at 60,000-80,000 in Mongolia. The Institute of Biology of the Mongolian Academy of Science assessed the Mongolian population size in 1986 over 53,000 hectares across 63 units of six provinces, resulting in an estimate of 44,000 individuals. The population size is continuing to decrease: densities fell from six per 5 km², to one per 5 km² in one observed population between 1990 and 2000. Similar levels of declines due to poaching are believed to have taken place elsewhere within its range. Generation length has been estimated as six years. As the causes of this decline, primarily exploitation, is expected to result in a population reduction of at least 30% over the next three generations, Moschus moschiferus qualifies as Vulnerable under Criterion A3d, and as well as A2d and A4d because of past declines. Further research could show that the species is declining more seriously than has been supposed, and could possible qualify for listing as Endangered.

Protection

The Sakhalin subspecies (Moschus moschiferus sachaliensis) is listed in Red List of Russian Federation as Category I (Critically Endangered).

It is protected as Very Rare under part 7.1 of the Law of the Mongolian Animal Kingdom (2000). Hunting in Mongolia has been prohibited since 1953, and it is protected as Very Rare under the 1995 Mongolian Hunting Law. It is listed in the 1997 Mongolian Red Book.

It is also on the Chinese Red List as Endangered A1cd, and is included on the China Key List - II.

Protected areas

In Russia it is present in a number of protected areas.

Approximately 13% of the species' range in Mongolia occurs within protected areas. The following conservation measure is in place in Mongolia: More than 1,5 million hectares of the range of this species is included within Horgo Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park (Hangai Mountain Range), Hövsgöl Nuur National Park (Hövsgöl Mountain Range), and Gorkhi Terelj National Park, Bogd Khan Uul Strictly Protected Area, and Khan Hentii Strictly Protected Area in Hentii Mountain Range.

Socio-economic aspects

Musk deer farms

The species is successfully bred in captivity at musk deer farms, especially in Russia (in the Altai and Moscow regions) and China.

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Library

Presentations

Reports

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Recommendations, remarks and advice

Species Management

species range

Enhance enforcement of existing protective legislature, particularly relating to trade in musk through increased vigilance within protected areas and by customs agents at border crossings.

Scientific

species range

Conduct further ecological research and monitor population trends, including on population dynamics, dispersal, and the effects of harvesting. No national surveys of Siberian musk deer population size have been conducted for over 30 years.

Area Management

species range

Regulate illegal logging and human-caused fires within its range.

Communication

Mongolia China, Russia and the Koreas

Organise a workshop including representatives from Mongolia, China, Russia and the Koreas to focus international efforts on conservation and to agree upon realistic yet effective solutions to threats faced by this species.

Economical

species range

Identify substitutes for musk which would be acceptable in traditional forms of East Asian medicine.

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Experts and scientific referees

IUCN SSC

For more detailed information view the 'Siberian Musk Deer - Moschus moschiferus' page on to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

Lkhagvasuren, Badamjav

WWF Mongolia

Vaisman, Alexey

Senior Program Officer of TRAFFIC Europe-Russia/WWF-Russia
TRAFFIC Europe-Russia/WWF-Russia
www.wwf.ru/traffic

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