Eastern Asia; Southern China, and Burma, to almost the northern forest boundries. Also found in the Himalayas.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native )
Differ sharply from other deer. Long well-muscled hind legs; shorter, weaker, thin forelimbs; chest usually small; back highly arched back, so that the animal is much higher at the sacrum than at the shoulders. This body structure correlates with the animal's usual pattern of movement, a series of well coordinated jumps generated from the hind legs. Males weigh slightly less than females. Neither sex has antlers. The male has fine and extremely sharp canines protruding directly downward from the mouth. In older males, canine tips extend considerably below the lower jaw.
Age-related changes in hair coat and colorings: new-borns have short, dark brown, soft hair, densely covered with yellowish or white spots. By the second winter, young molt into their winter coat, which consists of coarse hair typical of an adult. The spots become less defined or absent.
Range mass: 15 to 17 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Catalog Number: USNM 143184
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Collector(s): W. Smith
Locality: Mok-Po, Mountains Near, Cholla-Namdo, Korea, Asia
Mostly, musk deer inhabit the middle altitudes of montane taiga (usually not found above 1600m). In the winter, they are attracted to relatively steep slopes covered with coniferous forests. Favorite habitats are sections with rock outcrops, which provide shelter from predators. In the summer, most of their time is spent in valleys of forest rivers, around streams, and near fields with good grassy vegatation (e.g., where coniferous taiga alternates with mixed deciduous forest). They avoid marshy forests.
Terrestrial Biomes: taiga ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
They are solitary, though they sometimes occur in small groups (no more than 3 individuals) of a female with her young. In the Altai, family groups consist usually of an adult permanent couple and the young of the year. The territory of female and young lies within the territory of a male. Sometimes the group includes young males up to 2 years old, that are submissive to the adult male, but actively participate in making and protecting common territory (Prohod’ko, 2002). They are primarily active at dusk and dawn. While foraging, a musk deer may travel 3-7 km per night, generally returning to the same spot (a "lair") every morning. Individuals inhabit home ranges between 200 and 300 hectares in size, sticking to the boundaries steadfastly. The size of the home range decreases markedly during the second half of winter. Seasonal migrations are minimal if present at all. Reproduction starts in December, although some females do not mate until March (Prohod’ko, 2002). Females gestate for just over 6 months, and give birth to 1-3 offpsring, usually in May and June. Young wean at 3-4 months, and are mature at 15-17 months. Animals live in the wild for 10-14 years.
Over 130 plant species are consumed by musk deer. In the winter, arboreal lichens and some terrestrial bushy lichens make up about 70% of the contents of a musk deer's stomach (by weight). Musk deer also eat young shoots, coniferous needles, leaves, buds, and bark of mountain ash, aspens, maple, willow, bird cherry , and honeysuckle. In the summer, herbaceous plants are the main diet. These include buckwheat, geranium, some grasses, and spirea.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Estrus occurs in December usually lasts for three to four weeks. The gestation period is 185-195 days and there is no latent stage of embryonic development. Females deliver one fawn or rarely two. Fawning occurs in secluded places such as beneath dense shrubs, under low branches of fir, or around fallen trees. Strangely, up to 1/3 of adult females remain barren every year. Fawns stay with their mothers for up to two years (two winters).
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 458.75 g.
Average gestation period: 162 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.5.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 473 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Moschus moschiferus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Moschus moschiferus
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
The musk deer has long been hunted for its prized "musk pouch." In 1855, around 81,200 sacs were exported from Russia to China through Kyakhta, and a few years later, Japan imported over 100,000 sacs in a single year. The musk deer population diminished greatly, and in 1927, only 5,089 sacs were collected. This lead to the classification of the animal as endangered by the USDI (1980). The musk deer also appears in Appendix 1 of CITES.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Vulnerable(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
- 1994Endangered(Groombridge 1994)
Illegal, unsustainable hunting for musk is the principal threat to this species. An estimated 25,000 adult males were killed through harvesting and illegal hunting between 1990 and 2001 (Homes, 2004). As hunting is often indiscriminate of sex and age, four to five Siberian musk deer are estimated to be killed per musk-pod harvested (Green, 1987). As cheaper, synthetic alternatives for making perfumes are becoming more popular, use of musk in the perfume industry is decreasing, but its value for cardiac, circulatory and respiratory traditional medicines remains high. During the 1970s, the international market value of musk reached up to $45,000 USD per kg. Between 1995 and 2001, the number of traders in musk increased six-fold, following a similar increase in the market price of musk-pods (Zahler et al., 2004). Resource extraction such as mining is not causing a substantial loss of habitat at present, but the resulting human disturbance from this activity does constitute a threat. Habitat fragmentation may also threaten the species (Tsendjav and Bujinkhand, 2000).
In Russia it is present in a number of protected areas. Approximately 13% of the species’ range in Mongolia occurs within protected areas. The following conservation measures are in place in Mongolia:
• More than 1.5 million hectares of the range of this species is included within Horgo Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park (Hangai Mountain Range), Hövsgöl Nuur National Park (Hövsgöl Mountain Range), and Gorkhi Terelj National Park, Bogd Khan Uul Strictly Protected Area, and Khan Hentii Strictly Protected Area in Hentii Mountain Range (Wemmer, 1998).
The following conservation measures are needed through its range (Wang et al 1993; Wemmer et al 1998):
• Enhance enforcement of existing protective legislature, particularly relating to trade in musk through increased vigilance within protected areas and by customs agents at border crossings.
• Conduct further ecological research and monitor population trends, including on population dynamics, dispersal, and the effects of harvesting. No national surveys of Siberian musk deer population size have been conducted for over 30 years (Homes, 2004).
• Regulate illegal logging and human-caused fires within its range (R. Reading pers. comm.).
• Organise a workshop including representatives from Mongolia, China, Russia and the Koreas to focus international efforts on conservation and to agree upon realistic yet effective solutions to threats faced by this species (Homes, 2004).
• Identify substitutes for musk which would be acceptable in traditional forms of East Asian medicine (Homes, 2004).
The species is successfully bred in captivity at musk deer farms, especially in Russua (in the Altai and Moscow regions) and China.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Musk deer are caught mainly for musk ("musk deer perfume"), present only in the males. Musk is secreted by a saccate gland located between the sex organs and the naval. In the past, musk was used in medicine in Europe and the East. The use of musk as a natural perfume base (used in preparing high quality scents) was discovered later. When this happened, the use of musk in perfume boomed. In Nepal in 1972, for example, an ounce of musk was worth more than an ounce of gold.
Siberian musk deer
The Siberian musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) is a musk deer found in the mountain forests of Northeast Asia. It is most common in the taiga of southern Siberia, but is also found in parts of Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and the Korean peninsula.
It is largely nocturnal, and migrates only over short distances. It prefers altitudes of more than 2600 m. Adults are small, weighing 7–17 kg.
The Siberian musk deer is classified as threatened by the IUCN. It is hunted for its musk gland, which fetches prices as high as $45,000 per kilogram. Only a few tens of grams can be extracted from an adult male. It is possible to remove the gland without killing the deer, but this is seldom done.
The most striking characteristics of the Siberian musk deer are its tusks and kangaroo-like face. Males grow the teeth for display instead of antlers.
A distinct subspecies roams the island of Sakhalin.
Population size and trends
World population: 230,000 Declining
- Russian Federation, Sakhalin population: 600-500 Declining
- Russian Federation, the Eastern Siberian population: 27,000-30,000 Declining
- Russian Federation, Far Eastern population: 150,000 Declining
- Mongolia: 44,000 Declining
- China: unknown Declining
- Democratic People's Republic of Korea: unknown Declining
- Republic of Korea: unknown Declining
Musk chemical composition
Siberian musk deer preputial gland secretions are constituted of free fatty acids and phenols (10%), waxes (38%) and steroids. Cholestanol, cholesterol, androsterone, Δ4-3α-hydroxy-17-ketoandrostene, 5β,3α-hydroxy-17-ketoandrostane, 5α,3β,17α-dihydroxyandrostane, 5β,3α,17β-dihydroxyandrostane and 5β,3α,17α-dihydroxyandrostane can be isolated from the steroid fraction. 3-Methylpentadecanone (muscone) was not identified among the secretion lipids.
- Nyambayar, B., Mix, H. & Tsytsulina, K. (2008). Moschus moschiferus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 29 March 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of vulnerable.
- National Geographic Channel. Wild Russia. Siberia. (2009)
- Musk deer (Moschus moschiferus): Reinvestigation of main lipid components from preputial gland secretion. V. E. Sokolov, M. Z. Kagan, V. S. Vasilieva, V. I. Prihodko and E. P. Zinkevich, Journal of Chemical Ecology, January 1987, Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 71-83, doi:10.1007/BF01020352
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