Siberian Musk Deer
The musk deer is best known for producing musk, which is highly demanded throughout the world. This substance has a characteristic odor and is among the most expensive animal products around the globe. As opposed to true deer (belonging to Cervidae family), male Siberian musk deer lack antlers. They exhibit 2 conspicuous canines, appearing on their lower jaw and resembling tusks. Their canine teeth are up to 10 cm long and never stop growing throughout their lives.
- Kingdom Animalia
The natural range of this species covers Eastern Asia, stretching from Southern China and Burma throughout the Himalayas to the northern forests. The musk deer is endemic to mountainous terrains, covered with forests. The animal is typically found on north-facing, steep slopes. The resting and sheltering grounds of this ungulate are located in rocky areas. During the summer months, populations in some regions descend to wooded river valleys, abundant with grasses.
Habits and lifestyle
Musk deer display activity at dusk and by night. During periods of heavy rainfalls, they are usually less active. These shy and cautious animals are found either solitarily or in small groups of 2 - 3 individuals, typically a female with her offspring. Musk deer are migratory animals. During the winter months, these animals live on steep slopes. With the onset of the summer, they move to grassy meadows along river valleys of their mountainous range. During the spring and fall months, they use communal toilets, which produce a characteristic odor, serving as a form of communication between conspecifics. Home range of each male musk deer may cover up to 300 hectares, including feeding sites of 1 - 3 females. Weaker and smaller males normally avoid coming into another male's territory, since the latter will drive them away by fighting. Additionally, males defend their territories through scent marking.
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Diet and nutrition
Siberian musk deer are herbivores which generally consume lichens, pine needles, leaves and bark (e.g bark of mountain ash), supplementing this diet with young shoots, coniferous needles, buds, aspens, maple, willow, bird cherry and honeysuckle.
Little is known about the mating system of Siberian musky deer. They are known to mate in November-December. One or two fawns are born after 6 months of gestation. Females give birth in special areas, located under dense shrubs, low branches of fir or around fallen trees. The babies grow up, living with heir mother until about 2 years old, although sexual maturity is reached at 15-18 months old.
Musk deer are the source of musk, which has been in huge demand during the last 5,000 years. About 81,200 sacs were exported from Russia to China through Kyakhta in 1855. After a short while, as many as 100,000 sacs were imported to Japan during only one year. However, the population of these animals later began to decrease. As a result, only 5,089 sacs were collected in 1927. Currently, the primary threat to this species is still hunting for musk, which is now used in medicines and perfumes.
No estimate of total population size is available for this species. According to the IUCN Red List, population in Mongolia estimates about 44,000 individuals, Eastern Siberia holds a decreasing population of 600 - 650 individuals, whereas Russian Far East is home to 150,000 Siberian musk deer. According to data from 2011, there are around 110,000 musk deer in 10 federal regions of Siberia. Overall, Siberian musk deer are classified as Vulnerable (VU) and their numbers continue to decrease.
Fun facts for kids
- The usual diet of musk deer is mainly composed of lichen, which they get by climbing bent tree trunks, taking over heights of up to 4 meters. A single individual of this species eats about 0.8 kg of lichen.
- Musk, acquired from musk deer, is a highly valuable substance. For example, in 1972, musk was more valuable than gold in Nepal.
- Although musk deer are common and widely distributed mammals, having a considerable economic importance, this species is being seriously explored only since the middle 1980s.
- These animals possess 4 stomachs, only one of which is used, while the others are "false stomachs". They digest their meal by chew their cud, like cows.
- Deer are capable to live in almost all types of habitat, but generally occupy "edges" - human-made or naturally occurring transitional areas such as those between woods and croplands.
- When noticing a potential danger, these animals give out an alarm call to community members by raising their tails.