Musk or kasturi is one of the few per fumes of animal origin. More valuable than gold, it is a very expen- fasive animal product fetching up to Rs. 2.5 lakh per kg in the international market. Musk is one of the oldest materials used in perfumery. It is also used in the preparation of medicines to treat asthma, epilepsy, hysteria and other nervous disor- ders. Research has shown that musk is effective as a general stimulant for the heart and the central ner- vous system.
This multi-purpose animal product is the aromat- ic secretion of the male Himalayan musk deer, the most beautiful and valuable of all deer in India. The musk deer inhabits the inhospitable terrain of the upper Himalayas and has been exploited for its musk for many centuries.
The musk deer is very shy and avoids human contact. It usually remains concealed to avoid detec- tion. On the slightest suspicion of an intruder, it gives a non-vocal alarm call, described as a “hiss’ and then escapes out of sight.
Due to its timid nature, human beings rarely happen to see it in the wild. Himachal is one of the few places where the musk deer enjoys a natural way of living in man’s world.
On top of the beautiful Kufri hills, 16 kms from Shinila, Himachal’s forest department has created a Nature Park named the Himalayan Nature Park. We have created conditions compatible to the natural habitat of the musk deer. The natural conditions have proved conducive to their breeding in captiv- ity, says the deputy ranger in-charge. “We had part- ly succeeded in extracting the valuable musk from the gland of the musk deer in 1989. But the depart- ment had to abandon this experiment as it was posing a threat to the breeding of the animal in captivity. “
The Himalayan Musk deer captive or wild has a beautiful body profile. With hare like long ears, arched back and bounding gait, it mea- sures nearly 2 feet and weighs between 10- 13 Kg. The general body colour is grey-brown with place bands across the back. The head is grey flecked with white. The Rump and thigh areas are darker, with orange in the anal region. The tail is very short and na- ked except for a tuft of hair at the tip.
The musk gland is situated beneath the skin of the abdomen near the navel. In mature males, the musk gland contains be- tween 30 to 50 gms of musk. Peak production of musk takes place between May and July.
Humans have been the most dangerous enemy for the musk deer. Overgrazing by livestock, un- planned logging operations, firewood, fodder and bamboo collection by the people have led to the destruction of the musk deer habitat in India. Poaching for commercial exploitation of musk is a major cause for the decline of musk deer population.
Though there is a ban on musk deer trade in India, poaching and subsequent smuggling of musk through international borders is still going on.
The musk deer has an uncertain future. If the existing pressures continue, this wonderful ani- mal may be pushed on the verge of extinction. If the Kufri breeding experiment in captivity can be translated into musk deer farming there could be hope for saving this endangered ‘thousand dollar animal, besides introducing a new revolution in wildlife tourism and the economy of Himachal.