Moschus moschiferus. Asia. Mounted specimen, 1912.
These two musk deer were killed in 1912 in Siberia. The species is still being hunted and poached for the male’s musk gland and is greatly threatened.
THE SCENT OF MUSK
Siberian musk deer are nocturnal cloven-hoofed animals that live in the thick mountain woods of Central and Eastern Asia at altitudes of 2,500 to 3,500 meters. They are good climbers and jumpers and can even climb inclined tree trunks. Their typical hopping movement is due to their long back legs. Siberian musk deer are strict loners; they feed on grass, moss, and lichens. The female drops one to two young that are spotted at birth.
The male is immediately distinguishable from the female by its upper canines, which form tusks and can be up to seven centimeters long. They are used in hierarchical and territorial fights and can inflict deep wounds.
It is also only the male that possesses the musk sac, an abdominal glandular pouch between the navel and the penis. The brownish, strong-smelling contents are used to make soaps and perfume and are also greatly in demand for traditional Chinese medicine. In South Korea, a kilogram of musk fetches the same price as two kilograms of gold!
This is why populations are declining rapidly, mainly due to poaching. A musk gland contains at most 30 grams of musk; in the year 2000 approximately 20,000 male Siberian musk deer were killed for musk traded on the black market. Although the Chinese are attempting to farm these animals, they are not easy to breed in captivity. Another alternative would be to capture the male alive, remove the musk and then free the animal again. However, as this method is time-consuming and expensive it is seldom practised.