Distribution: Musk deer occur throughout the forested, mountainous parts of Asia and parts of eastern Russia. There are at least four and, according to some scientists, possibly six or more species. The Siberian Musk Deer Moschus moschiferus occurs in China, Mongolia, North and South Korea, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan. The Forest Musk Deer M. berezovskii is found in China and Vietnam. The Himalayan Musk Deer M. chrysogaster occurs in Afghanistan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan, while the Black Musk Deer M. fuscus is found in Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal.

Status: IUCN classifies the Siberian Musk Deer as vulnerable, while the other three species are considered to be at lower risk but near threatened. Populations of musk deer are declining throughout their distribution. In Russia and in the Russian part of the former Soviet Union there were some 170 000 musk deer in the end of the 1980s, a population which experts believe has declined by about 50 per cent in the past 10 years due to over-hunting.

Threats: While habitat destruction poses a threat to musk deer populations, large-scale illegal hunting to meet commercial demand for the scent gland or “pod” of the male musk deer is believed to be responsible for dramatic declines in some musk deer populations at the end of this century. The pod is located in the preputial region near the genitals of the male deer.

Medicinal and other use: Secretions from the pod of male musk deer are used in many traditional East Asian medicines to treat a variety of ailments relating to the heart, nerves and breathing. There are at least 300 different manufactured East Asian medicines containing musk. While natural musk is still preferred in traditional East Asian medicine, a limited demand for natural musk can also be found in the homeopathic industry in Europe. Musk is also produced synthetically and used widely in non-medicinal products such as cosmetics, personal hygiene preparations, shampoos and detergents.

Medicinal demand: It is estimated that the annual demand for musk in China alone is between 500 to 1000 kilograms, an amount which could require the pods of more than 100 000 musk deer. While China began farming musk deer in the 1950s, these farms produce only about 50 kilos of musk each year, which means significant pressure remains on wild populations to meet total demand. Demand for musk deer pods and medicinals also can be found throughout Asia and wherever there are significant Asian populations. Some 90 per cent of all the international musk trade consists of mainly medicines and raw musk. During 1995-1997, illicit international trade in musk deer pods or medicines containing musk was uncovered in a variety of countries, including Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Nepal, the Netherlands, South Korea, the UK and USA.

Perfume demand: Today, most perfumes using musk contain synthetically produced musk, but genuine musk still is used in some traditional perfume recipes, particularly in France. Between 1980-1995 France imported 100 kilograms of raw musk from mainly Hong Kong, the Soviet Union/Russia and Nepal, more than 90 per cent of which was processed to perfume within the country.

Legal status: Musk deer are protected under national legislation in many countries where they are found but enforcement and, therefore, effective protection is often minimal. The populations of Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan are included in Appendix I of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This means that these musk deer and their derivatives are banned from international commercial trade. All other populations of musk deer are listed in CITES Appendix II, requiring permits for international commercial trade.

–July 1999

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