The Musk Deer: A tragic perfumed tale

The Musk Deer has a problem. They have been hunted for the gland in the anal cavity for perfume and medicine since time immemorial. You could say that they have the opposite problem that a skunk has. The musk gland has a very strong scent and is used as a fixative, to make the perfume, less volatile.

Apart from the gland, which is mostly used for scent marking and attracting females, males have very long canines. They are for display and for fighting other males. These animals are herbivorous and eat shrubbery at high elevations. They can also live on the diet of lichen when leaves are scarce.

They are considered to be a primitive type of mammal, sharing common ancestry with cows and sheep. Although they look the part, they are not part of the deer family (cervidae) either. They have their own called Moschidae.  Within it, there is one surviving genus: Moschus . It has seven species spread mostly around the Himalayas and it’s foothills. One species is found all the way in Siberia. They are described below:

Anhui musk deer (moschus anhuiensis): 


These deer are found in the Anhui province of China and are endangered throughout their range in the Dabie Mountains. Little is known but that these animals probably inhabit mixed forests at high elevations. The population has declined by 50% in three generations due to habitat loss.




Dwarf musk deer (moschus berezovskii):


This species is also endangered and found in South China and North Vietnam. There are four subspecies that are recognized. There populations in the wild have plummeted due to hunting. The musk is so highly valued that it can fetch as much as $45,000 per kilogram. There are efforts at captive breeding which will perhaps help stem the population decline.




Alpine musk deer (moschus chrysogaster):


This species is found in a very wide area of Southern China, India, Nepal and Bhutan. There has been a significant population decline but some areas provide safe sanctuary. Bhutan has a mandate to keep 60% of the land as wild nature and there some of the musk deer have recovered a bit.




Kashmir musk deer (moschus cupreus):

The Kashmir Musk Deer are found in India, Pakistan and even in some areas of Afghanistan(despite all the odds against them in a war-torn country without rule of law). This moschid was considered a subspecies of the Alpine musk deer but have been re-classified recently. Even the little we know about them through camera traps and conversation with hunters(poachers, really!), they seem to be widely hunted even now and their numbers will likely dwindle further.




Black musk deer (moschus fuscus):


Black Musk Deer  is found in the southeastern Xizang and western Yunnan portions of China. This species is also found in northern Burma and southeastern Tibet. There is little known about this species other than it is small and lives a solitary life aside from the breeding season. Perhaps the remote regions are the best safety for these creatures as they are hunted throughout the habitat that they inhabit.




White-bellied musk deer (moschus leucogaster):


This taxon is sometimes treated as a Himalayan subspecies of Alpine Musk Deer  but it was separated on the basis of different skull proportions. They are found in India, Nepal, Bhutan and China but numbers are dwindling again due to hunting and habitat loss. The bane of habitat loss is very heavily correlated with any mammal that we know, endangered or not.




Siberian musk deer (moschus moschiferus):


The Siberian Musk Deer has the largest habitat range. They really get around; being found from Northern China, Korea, Kazakhstan, Russia and Northern Mongolia. Their hind legs and back very pronouncedly arched with the chest and neck being quite short. This species does not show antlers but has very long canines.







The impact of hunting these elegant and versatile creatures for their musk glands has had quite a devastating impact on the population. The advent of the high powered long range rifle has been quite a severe problem. The war-torn areas and poor populations of the countries across which they range has resulted in hunting for food as well as habitat loss.

However, There are many organizations that are working for Musk deer conservation. Click on the picture below to donate to the WWF(World Wildlife Fund)

About mammal 73 Articles
I blog about mammals and all the interesting and fun-filled facts about them will be welcome additions to this blog.


  1. Hi there,
    We are writing a booklet for a Myanmar audience about animals in Myanmar and wondered if we could use your Black Musk Deer photo that appears on this page. Please let us know. Many thanks.

    • Hello Macarena,
      Please go ahead and use any content that you like. If you are publishing online also, send me the link and I will post a link in my blogpost to you.
      Thanks for contacting me.

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