For the first time in 60 years, the Kashmir musk deer was spotted in Afghanistan. Four individual deer were reported in a study recently published in Oryx Magazine. The last recorded sighting of the vampire-like fanged species dates back to 1948, when it was seen by a Dutch survey team passing through the area.
This news comes long after the species was believed to have gone extinct. The small deer were relentlessly targeted by poachers and wildlife traffickers who sought their scent glands, worth their weight in gold. The glands contain a pheromone frequently used in perfume and currently fetch $45,000 per kilo on the black market.
The deer are small, standing below two feet, and are native to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. They prefer rocky alpine habitats and rugged forested areas. Six similar species are found in Asia, but the Kashmir species is the only one listed as endangered. The “fangs” for which the deer are known are actually tusks that males use during rutting (mating) season to spar with other males and attract females.
The authors of the study are quick to note that while the recent sightings bode well for the deer, the species is still at risk. Efforts to end poaching and reduce habitat loss must be ongoing in order for the species to fully recover. One of the authors, Peter Zahler, calls the musk deer “one of Afghanistan’s living treasures” and, along with the snow leopard, comprises the “natural heritage of this struggling nation,” and must be saved.