Meet Afghanistan's Elusive, Endangered "Vampire" Deer

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This is a male musk deer, knowing for growing fangs during the breeding season. A recent survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society confirmed that Kashmir musk deer, one of seven related Asian species, still live in Afghanistan's Nuristan Province, some 60 years after its last recorded sighting.

Above: A Siberian musk deer, which is related to the Kashmir musk deer. Copyright Julie Larsen Maher/WCS, used with permission.

The males use their tusks - they're not actually fangs - to compete with eachother during the rutting season, when males establish their dominance hierarchy and try to court the females.


The WCS explains:

Known as the Kashmir musk deer – one of seven similar species found in Asia – the last scientific sighting in Afghanistan was believed to have been made by a Danish survey team traversing the region in 1948...

...The survey team recorded five sightings, including a solitary male in the same area on three occasions, one female with a juvenile, and one solitary female, which may have been the same individual without her young. All sightings were in steep rocky outcrops interspersed with alpine meadows and scattered, dense high bushes of juniper and rhododendron. According to the team, the musk deer were discrete, cryptic, difficult to spot, and could not be photographed.


The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List because of habitat loss but especially because of poaching. It's scent glands are more valuable by weight than gold, since they can get as much as $45,000 per kilo on the black market. Unfortunately, the political situation in Nuristan province has made it hard for conservation-minded NGOs to work there. Luckily, the WCS remains in contact with groups of locals that they have trained, and "will pursue funding to continue ecosystem research and protection in Nuristan when the situation improves." In the last few years, WCS has assisted in creating Afghanistan's first two nature reserves, Band-e-Amir and Wakhan National Parks.

In a press release, Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs said, "Musk deer are one of Afghanistan's living treasures. This rare species, along with better known wildlife such as snow leopards, are the natural heritage of this struggling nation. We hope that conditions will stabilize soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species."


Researchers have reported the new sighting of the fanged deer in Afghanistan in the latest edition of the journal Oryx.