Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Moschidae

Scientific Name: Moschus chrysogaster
Species Authority: (Hodgson, 1839)
Common Name(s):
English Alpine Musk Deer, Himalayan Musk Deer
Moschus sifanicus Büchner, 1891
Taxonomic Notes: This is a well defined species (Grubb 1982, 2005; Groves et al. 1995). The form sifanicus was included in M. moschiferus as a subspecies by Ellerman and Morrison-Scott (1951) and considered an independent species by Gao (1963). However, Groves et al. (1995) included it in M. chrysogaster as subspecies. The chrysogaster of Cai and Feng (1981) is subspecifically or specifically distinct, and the available name for this taxon may be leucogaster Hodgson, 1839 (Groves et al. 1995, Grubb 2005). Some Chinese authors continue to recognize M. sifanicus as a full species (e.g., Yang et al. 2003, Zhou et al. 2004).

Currently, two subspecies are recognized in China:

1) M. c. chrysogaster in southeastern and southern Tibet;
2) M. c. sifanicus in Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, western Sichuan and northwestern Yunnan.

There does not appear to be documentation of a clear delineation between these two forms.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Wang, Y. & Harris, R.B.
Reviewer(s): Black, P.A. & Gonzalez, S. (Deer Red List Authority)
Listed as Endangered because of a probable serious population decline, estimated to be more than 50% over the last three generations (approximately 21 years), inferred from over-exploitation, shrinkage in distribution, and habitat destruction and degradation. Although there is no direct data available regarding recent declining population rates, the above-mentioned rate of decline seems reasonable based on the high levels of harvesting and habitat loss. It should also be noted that a widely repeated but poorly documented estimate is that there were 180,000 wild individuals in China in the 1960s and 1970s (Yang et al. 2003, Zhou et al. 2004), but Sheng (1998) reported no more than 100,000 within China in the 1990s.
Previously published Red List assessments:
1996 Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
1988 Vulnerable (V)
1986 Endangered (E)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species occurs from the highlands of central China (the Helan mountains form the northern edge of the distribution), south and west to the Himalayas, extending to eastern Nepal, Bhutan, and northeastern India (Sathyakumar 2002; Wemmer 1998). Records from Afghanistan, Pakistan, northwestern India and western Nepal refer to Moschus cupreus and M. leucogaster. This species is found at elevations of 2,000-5,000 m asl.

Within China, which comprises the bulk of its range, it is found in southern Gansu, southern Ningxia, Qinghai, western Sichuan, southern Tibet, and northern Yunnan.
Countries occurrence:
Bhutan; China; India; Nepal
Lower elevation limit (metres): 2000
Upper elevation limit (metres): 5000
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Estimating population sizes or trends for musk deer is very difficult, and has rarely been done satisfactorily. Population estimates over large-scale areas are subject to considerable uncertainty (and this is exacerbated by uncertainty over taxonomy). A widely repeated but poorly documented estimate is that there were 180,000 individuals in the 1960s and 1970s (Yang et al. 2003, Zhou et al. 2004), but Sheng (1998) reported no more than 100,000 within China in the 1990s.

Liu and Sheng (2002) estimated population sizes in three Chinese nature reserves in the mid 1990s using extrapolations from counts of pellet groups, but provided few details. They estimated 183-227 in the Helan Mountain Nature Reserve in Ningxia, 131-160 in the Shoulu Mountain Nature Reserve in Gansu, and 4,717-5,798 in the Xinglong Mountain Nature Reserve in Gansu. More recent reports suggest that musk deer have become very rare in the Helan Mountains (Liu, Z.S., East China Normal University pers. comm., 2006).

Anecdotal evidence points to a continued decline in abundance within China. Although population estimates contained in Yang et al. (2003) are unreliable, data on musk purchased by local Traditional Chinese Medicine companies probably reflect real trends, and these suggested dramatic declines in musk deer populations during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, Tibet, and Shaanxi.
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species is found on barren plateaus at high altitudes, where it occupies meadows, fell-fields, shrublands or fir forests. In western Sichuan, where it overlaps the distribution of M. berezovskii, the alpine musk deer inhabits the higher elevations (above 2,000 m asl, usually above 3,00 m asl), compared with the 1,000-2,500 m altitudinal range of M. berezovskii. It feeds mainly on grasses, shrubs, leaves, moss, lichens, shoots, and twigs (Green 1987). Its main predators include yellow-throated marten, fox, wolf, and lynx. It is generally solitary and crepuscular (Harris and Cai 1993).

Breeding occurs primarily in November-December, with the resulting offspring being born from May to June. After birth, young deer lie hidden in secluded areas, essentially independent of their mothers except at feeding times. This hiding period may last up to 2 months. Gestation is variously reported at from 150-195 days (Hayssen et al. 1993) and give birth to one offspring (twins are sometimes reported by documentation is lacking). Fawns wean at 3-4 months, are sexually mature at 16-24 months.

Alpine musk deer are sedentary, tending to remain within defined home ranges. In females these are about 125 acres in size, while male musk deer will control a territory which encompasses the ranges of several females, possibly defending it against other males. The species is not known to migrate. Communication between individuals is thought to be based primarily on their sense of smell, due to the high development of the glands of musk deer. It is primarily silent, musk deer will emit a loud double hiss if alarmed. Population densities can reach 3-4 animals per square kilometer (Smith and Xie 2008), but are not always this high.
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The musk produced by this genus of primitive deer is highly valued for its cosmetic and alleged pharmaceutical properties, and can fetch U.S.$45,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) on the international market. Although this musk, produced in a gland of the males, can be extracted from live animals, most "musk-gatherers" kill the animals to remove the entire sac, which yields only about 25 grams (1/40 of a kilogram) of the brown waxy substance. Such poaching is relatively easy to accomplish and difficult to stop using only legal means (Harris 1991; 2007).

Musk deer also appear to require dense vegetation, either in the form of intact forests or shrublands; thus excessive forest clearing or grazing can preclude musk deer from using such lands (Yang et al. 2003).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species listed on CITES Appendix II in China, and on Appendix I in the other countries within its range. It is on the China Red List as Endangered (A1d+2cd+3cd), and was recently changed from category II to category I on the China Key List in February 2003. Captive breeding, primarily for commercial musk production, occurs in various places in China, and might have some conservation benefit. However, to date, there is little evidence that the availability of musk from captive-bred animals has had a positive conservation impact (Parry-Jones and Wu 2001, Green et al. 2007, Harris 2007).

Citation: Wang, Y. & Harris, R.B. 2008. Moschus chrysogaster. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T13895A4362754. . Downloaded on 10 October 2015.
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