Moschus chrysogaster 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Moschidae

Scientific Name: Moschus chrysogaster (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 (Hodgson, 1839) in southeastern and southern Tibet;
2) M. c. sifanicus (Büchner, 1891) 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: 2016
Date Assessed: 2014-11-20
Assessor(s): Harris, R.
Reviewer(s): Brook, S.M. & McShea, W.J.
Contributor(s): Wang, Y.
Confirmed 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. No substantive new information on the species' status was received for the re-assessment.
Previously published Red List assessments:

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). It is widely but discontinuously distributed across the mountainous parts of the Himalayas (Aryal et al. 2010). Records from Afghanistan and Pakistan refer to Moschus cupreus. 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
Additional data:
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 183227 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 the species has become very rare in the Helan Mountains (Liu, Z.S., East China Normal University pers. comm., 2006) and has been severely depleted since in northwest Yunnan as a result of overexploitation. Snaring has become one of the main threats to the species in northwest Yunnan (Xueyou and Xuelong 2014).

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.

In Nepal, within protected areas the numbers of the species is reportedly increasing (Aryal et al. 2010). There is an estimated 600-800 animals in Sagarmatha National Park at densities of up to 45/km², more than 1000 in Shey-Phoksundo National Park, an estimated 500 animals in Langtang National Park, and it also occurs in Annapurna Conservation Area, Kanchanjunga Conservation Area, Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve Khaptad National Park and Makulu-Barun National Park. Outside of protected areas the species is declining (Aryal et al. 2010).
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, typically preferring shaded steeper slopes with less human disturbance. 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 4,000-4,500 m asl), compared with the 1,0002,500 m altitudinal range of M. berezovskii.

It is predominantly a browser, feeding mainly on shrubs, forbs, leaves, moss, lichens, shoots, grasses, and twigs (Green 1987). The proportion of leaves and tender shoots in the diet is highest in spring and summer, buds and flowers in late summer, and leaves, twigs and flowers of forbs and shrubs later in the year (Wilson and Mittermeier 2011, Syed and Ilyas 2012).

Its main predators include yellow-throated marten, fox, wolf, and lynx. Snow leopard reportedly preys on the species in Nepal (Aryal et al. 2010) It is generally solitary and crepuscular (Harris and Cai 1993). Population density varies from 3.9 /km² in more arid habitats to 71 /km² in areas with higher rainfall. Densities are lower in areas with heavy snow cover and where there are more competitors (goral, serow and domestic cattle).

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 is sedentary, tending to remain within defined home ranges. In females these are about 125 acres in size, while males will control a territory that 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.
Generation Length (years):7

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: For information on use and trade, see under Threats.

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). In Nepal, the increased price of musk deer on the international market has reportedly led to an increase in poaching and trade in the Himalayas (Aryal et al. 2010). Poaching and trade of the species for musk is described as "unabated" and the principle threat in Uttarakhand, India (Ilyas 2014).

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). Furthermore, grazing of livestock within protected areas may pose a threat to musk deer through both competition and through disease transmission (Aryal et al. 2010).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is listed on CITES Appendix II in China, and on Appendix I in the other countries within its range. The sifanicus subspecies is on the China Red List as Critically Endangered (A1acd+B1ab(i,ii,iii)), and was 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). In Pakistan, the species is listed as Critically Endangered (Sheikh and Molur 2005).

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.4. Forest - Temperate
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.9. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.4. Shrubland - Temperate
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
3. Shrubland -> 3.7. Shrubland - Subtropical/Tropical High Altitude
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.4. Grassland - Temperate
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
4. Grassland -> 4.7. Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical High Altitude
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.1. International level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.2. National level

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.1. Annual & perennial non-timber crops -> 2.1.2. Small-holder farming
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.2. Small-holder grazing, ranching or farming
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood harvesting -> 5.3.5. Motivation Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Aryal, A., Raubenheimer, D., Subedi, S. and Kattel, B. 2010. Spatial habitat overlap and habitat preferences of Himalayan Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster) in Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park, Nepal. Current Research Journal of Biological Sciences 2: 217-225.

Cai, G. Q. and Feng. Z. J. 1981. On the occurrence of the Himalayan musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) in China and an approach to the systematics of the genus Moschus. Acta Zootaxonomica Sinica 6: 106-110.

Ellerman, J.R. and Morrison-Scott, T.C.S. 1951. Checklist of Palaearctic and Indian Mammals 1758 to 1946. British Museum (Natural History), London, UK.

Gao, Y. T. 1963. Taxonomy of Chinese musk deer. Chinese Journal of Zoology 15: 479–487.

Green, M.J.B. 1987. Some ecological aspects of a Himalayan population of musk deer. In: C.M. Wemmer (ed.), The Biology and Management of Cervidae, pp. 307-319. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D. C., USA.

Green, M.J.B., Taylor, P.M., Xu, H.F., Yin, F. and Lee, S.K.H. 2007. Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem? Assessing the Role of Captive Breeding for Conservation of Wild Populations of Animals Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Traffic East Asia, Hong Kong.

Groves, C.P., Yingxiang, W. and Grubb, P. 1995. Taxonomy of Musk-Deer, Genus Moschus (Moschidae, Mammalia). Acta Theriologica Sinica 15(3): 181-197.

Grubb, P. 1982. The systematics of Sino-Himalayan musk deer (Moschus), with particular reference to the species described by B.H. Hodgson. Saeugetierkundliche Mitteilungen. 30: 127–135.

Grubb, P. 2005. Artiodactyla. In: D.E. Wilson & D.M. Reeder (ed.), Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed), pp. 637-722. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA.

Habibi, K. 1977. The mammals of Afghanistan - their distribution and status. United Nations Development Programme - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Dept. of Forest and Range, Ministry of Agriculture, Rome, Italy.

Harris, R. B. 1991. Conservation prospects for musk deer and other wildlife in southern Qinghai, China. Mountain Research and Development 11: 353-358.

Harris, R.B. 2007. Wildlife Conservation in China: Preserving the Habitat of China’s Wild West. M. E. Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, New York, USA.

Harris, R.B. and Cai, G.Q. 1993. Autumn home range of musk deer in Baizha Forest, Tibetan plateau. Journal Bombay Natural History Society 90: 430-436.

Hayssen, V., van Tienhoven, A. and van Tienhoven, A. 1993. Asdell's Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction: A Compendium of Species-specific Data. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Ilyas, O. 2014. Status, habitat use and conservation of Alpine musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) in Uttarakhand Himalayas, India. Journal of Applied Animal Research.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1. Available at: (Accessed: 30 June 2016).

Liu, Z. X. and Sheng, H. L. 2002. Effect of habitat fragmentation and isolation on the population of alpine musk deer. Russian Journal of Ecology 33: 121-124.

Negi, A. S. 2002. Status, distribution and management of mountain ungulates in Uttaranchal. In: S. Sathyakumar and Y. V. Bhatnagar (eds), ENVIS Bulletin: Wildlife and Protected Areas Vol 1, No. 1, pp. 34-37.

Parry-Jones, R. and Wu, J.Y. 2001. Musk Deer Farming as a Conservation Tool in China. TRAFFIC East Asia., Hong Kong.

Sathyakumar, S. 2002. Species of the greater Himalaya. In: S. Sathyakumar (ed.), ENVIS Bulletin: Wildlife and Protected Areas, pp. 44-49.

Sheikh, K.M. and Molur, S. (eds). 2005. Status and red list of Pakistan’s mammals, based on conservation assessment and management plan for mammals. pp. 344. IUCN, Pakistan.

Sheng, H. L. 1998. Moschus chrysogaster. In: S. Wang (ed.), China Red Date Book of Endangered Animals, pp. 241-243. Science Press, Beijing, China.

Sheng, H.L. and Liu, Z.X. 2007. The Musk Deer in China. Shanghai Scientific & Technical Publishers, Shanghai, China.

Sheng, H.L., Ohtaishi, N. and Lu, H.J. 1999. The Mammals of China. China Forestry Publishing House, Beijing, China.

Smith, A.T. and Xie, Y. 2008. A Guide to the Mammals of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Syed, Z. and Ilyas, O. 2012. Status, distribution and aspects of ecology of Apline Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster) in Uttrakhand Himalayas, India. DSG Newsletter 24: 4-12.

Wang, S. and Xie, Y. (eds). 2004. China Species Red List. pp. 296 pp. Higher Education Press, Beijing.

Wang Y.X. 2003. A Complete Checklist of Mammal Species and Subspecies in China, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. China Forestry Publishing House, Beijing, China.

Wemmer, C. 1998. Deer Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A. 2011. Handbook of the mammals of the world. Vol. 2. Hoofed mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Xueyou, L. and Xuelong, J. 2014. Implications of musk deer (Moschus spp.) depletion from hunter reports and dung transect data in northwest Yunnan, China. Journal for Nature Conservation 22(474-478).

Yang, Q.S., Meng, X.X., Xia, L. and Lin Feng, Z.J. 2003. Conservation status and causes of decline of musk deer (Moschus spp.) in China. Biological Conservation 109: 333-342.

Zhou, Y.J., Meng, X.X., Feng, J.C., Yang, Q.S., Feng, Z.J., Xia, L. and Bartoš, L. 2004. Review of the distribution, status, and conservation of musk deer in China. Folia Zoologica 53: 129-140.

Citation: Harris, R. 2016. Moschus chrysogaster. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T13895A61977139. . Downloaded on 19 June 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided