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Musk-deer

Their capture, domestication and care according to Chinese experience and methods

Zhang Baoliang

ZHANG BAOLIANG is a scientist with the Animal Research Institute of Shani Province in China.

The musk-deer (Moschus moschiferus Linnaeus) belongs to the Moschus genus of the deer family, artiodactyl order. It is found in China, the USSR, Mongolia, India, Burma, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan.

China has quite a big population of musk-deer dispersed through the areas of Heilong Jiang, Shaanxi, Qinghai, Sichuan and Tibet.

Musk, the secretion from the musk bag of this type of male deer, has a pungent smell. It is a valuable ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine and is also appreciated as a rare animal spice. According to traditional medicine, musk has many qualities: it can be used to make all sense organs more sensitive, to improve the condition of the body’s main and collateral channels, to stimulate the blood circulation, to reduce inflammation and to relieve internal heat or fever. China occupies the lead position in the world’s musk production, both in quantity and quality. It also enjoys prestige in the international market where musk is used mainly by the perfume industry. For over a thousand years, musk has been obtained by hunting wild musk-deer, but this practice was becoming a threat to the species and to a valuable natural resource. This is why new methods were adopted to keep the musk ret sources from becoming extinct. In addition to strengthening protection measures against possible damage to wildlife and organizing the hunting in a rational way, China has set up, since 1958, quite a number of musk-deer farms in the areas of Maerkang, Miyalo and Manchuan of the Sichuan Province, in the Zhenping county of Shaanxi Province and the Fuziling area of Anhui Province. Over the past twenty years, great progress has been made in the study of most aspects of the musk-deer’s habits, feeding, management, domestication, the extraction of musk from living animals, and the mechanism and the regular pattern of musk secreting.

Capture and transport. At the very start of musk-deer farming, all animals come from the wild. Therefore, the method of capturing them is very important for securing the best survival rate.

China has a long hunting history. The Chinese people have rich experience in capturing the musk-deer alive. Here are some of the methods they mostly use:

· Chasing. Easy to do, with fewer injuries to and high survival rate of the deer, but high in manpower;· Noosing. Economical and easy, with a high catching rate. Dozens of nooses can be set out at the same time, but survival rate is low;

· Net-catching. Safer than noosing, but needs close watching;

· Trapping. The survival rate is ideal, but high in manpower.

Transporting the musk-deer requires great care and a strong sense of responsibility. Otherwise death could easily occur on the way to destination. A cage made of bamboo, wood or iron should be prepared beforehand, measuring 100 cm long, 50 cm wide and 70 to 80 cm high, with an opening on one side. It should contain fodder and a trough with a good supply of water.

During transport the cage should be covered with a cloth to keep the deer in the dark, with its limbs untied. The truck should be driven slowly and smoothly and should also be covered. One person should be in charge of the deer’s welfare during the trip. In summer, it is best to drive during the cool hours of early morning and evening, resting when the sun is high.

Should any animal die on the way, its body must be disposed of immediately to avoid infection.

Farming and management. The deer’s new environment, after capture, differs greatly from its old, wild habitat. This is why it should be given the best possible care through the most efficient farming and managing, to enable the deer to live, grow, breed and produce musk normally.

It is important to:

· Mix all kinds of fodders in rational portions;
· Feed at a set time, with the same quantity, in a regular pattern;
· Change food gradually when feeding a different fodder, rather than doing it suddenly;
· Supply enough water;
· Divide herds where possible according to sex, age and health conditions;
· Be gentle and mild, avoid frightening the deer and never drive them with sticks.

The newly captured. Upon arrival at the farm, put the newly captured musk-deer into a dark, quiet and narrow shed to rest for about two hours, before feeding with a small amount (150 g) of its favourite grass and fresh water (100 ml).

During the first few days, feed twice daily with small amounts of grass and water morning and evenings, to prevent any trouble arising from overeating. When eating and excreting have returned to normal, the door and window curtains should be removed during daytime to let the light in. When health conditions are fully restored, leave the shed entrance open during the day and let the musk-deer go freely, and gradually become accustomed to life within the enclosure. At night, keep it inside the shed. The newly captured may be put into a herd 10 days later. The same methods are used for the younger ones-two months old or over-if healthy. Those under two months or in poor health need special care. Put them into a dark, quiet shed alone, or simply keep them within the cage. They should rest for about two or three hours before nursing. They should be bottle-fed or nursed by sheep and, whenever possible, entrusted to a deer that bore only one fawn and has sufficient milk. Both sucklings should be of similar size.

Herd composition. Enclosures rather than cages are mostly used for musk deer farming. Therefore, careful selections should be made according to age, health conditions and gregarious-ness in order to decide whether to compose the herd on a single male basis, a mixed male/female basis or a polygamy basis. The number of deer and the size of the enclosures are also factors to consider.

The male. For feeding composition and programme, see Table 1.

Keep the young deer separate from the old, and the weak separate from the strong, for their own protection.

To prevent the animals biting each other, blunt their protruding front teeth with bone-cutting scissors.

When first shut into an enclosure, musk-deer react by running around it obviously trying to get out, or they start fighting with one another. Do not, when this happens, transfer some to another herd. Rather, take out a few at a time and keep them in separate enclosures for two or three days before introducing them into other herds.

During the mating season and the musk physiological reaction period, take particular precautions against diseases.

Every year select the stud for breeding before September. Study them very carefully before making the final choice. Discard those lacking in strong sexual drive or sexual intercourse ability, and those which cannot impregnate the females. Do not use stud that are too young, too old or too wild.

If a herd has two stud deer, use them in turn, to avoid fighting. When mating is over, keep the stud away from the herd and feed separately with diet unchanged. Feeding with the herd can be resumed when the studs have recuperated their strength.

The female. For feeding programme, see Table 2.

Get ready for breeding by the end of September. Keep a breeding record for each female to calculate the correct time of delivery to make management easier. After mating, keep the environment quiet, leave larger spaces between troughs and keep the shed gate permanently open to prevent possible miscarriages provoked by females colliding when rushing to get out.

After the third month of pregnancy, the does must have more exercise and get more sunshine to build up their health and speed up the growth of the foetus. One month before delivery, reduce the choice fodder according to their respective health conditions, to avoid dystocia as a result of over fattening. However, weaker does will require choice fodder and special care until delivery.

During the calving season, inspect does three or four times a day. According to their pre-natal symptoms, put those that will give birth for the first time and the bad-tempered animals into the delivery room from one to three days before the expected date. Keep the delivery room quiet, so that the lying-in females will not be frightened.

Give small quantities of fresh water and choice fodder two or three hours after delivery. During the next few days, does should be fed several times a day but with smaller quantities than usual. This is to prevent indigestion – their still distended abdominal cavity incites then to overeat. It also helps them in digesting their own placenta. The feeding amount could be increased two or three days later.

Do not clean the delivery room during the first week, to make sure that the does take proper care of their newborn.

Table 1. Daily food supply for the male (g/head/day)

Month

Silage

g

Dry roughage

g

Juicy

g

Fine

g

Mineral

g

Animal

ml

Salt (g)

Preparatory period

Sep

Mulberry1/Zelkova/ Lettuce/Plum2/ Apricot/Bean leaf3/ Date leaf/Chinese cabbage/Sweet potato leaf

550

M. alba/
M. cathayana/
M. mongolica/
P. salicina/
P. mume/
P. Armeniaca

100

Potato Cushaw

150

Soybean Mung bean Maize Wheat bran100Inkfish bone meal/ Bone meal/ Synthetic minerals5Codliver oil

2

1

Oct

Mulberry/Sweet potato leaf/Chinese cabbage/ Turnip leaf/Bean leaf/ Box/Euonymus fortunei/ Pittosporum glabratum/ Beet leaf/Apple leaf

550

125

Potato Cushaw Turnip Sweet potato Carrot

150

125

5

2

1

Breeding period

Nov

Chinese cabbage/Turnip leaf/Carrot leaf/Coriaria sinica/Box/Euonymus fortunei/ Pittosporum glabratum/Beet leaf/ Apple leaf

500

150

200

150

6

2

1

Dec

Box/Euonymus fortunei/ Pittosporum glabratum/ Coriaria sinica

500

150

200

150

6

2

1

Jan

Box/Euonymus fortunei/ Pittosporum glabratum

500

150

Potato/ Turnip/ Sweet potato/ Carrot

200

150

6

2

1

Feb

500

150

200

150

6

2

1

Convalescence

Mar

500

150

200

150

4

1

0.5

Apr

Azalea/ Chinese sumac/ Paper mulberry/ Elm

550

100

150

4

1

0.5

Musk secreting period

May

Azalea/Chinese sumac/ Mulberry/Paper mulberry/Zelkova/Plum/Cherry

550

100

100

3

0.5

Jun

Mulberry/Zelkova/Plum/Lettuce/Bean leaf

550

75

75

3

0.5

Normal period

Jul

Mulberry/Plum/Zelkova/Bean leaf

550

75

Potato Cushaw

150

75

3

0.5

Aug

550

75

150

75

3

0.5

1 Mulberry: Morus alba/M. australis/M. cathayana/M. mongolica/Coriaria sinica.
2 Plum: Prunus salicina/P. armeniaca/P. mume.
3 Bean last: Soybean/Cowpea/Phaseolus/Red boar/Mung bean.

When cleaning operations begin, put the fawns in another room or simply release the does, to prevent possible injuries or deaths caused by trampling. Sometimes nursing does get weaker and lose weight. In that case, they should be fed separately with their favourite grass and extra rations of nutritious choice fodder.

The young. Keep the delivery room warm and dry, free of draughts. It should be spacious enough to keep the fawns separate from the does whenever necessary.

Do not touch the newborn before they are seven days old, since the does might abandon their fawns if they smelled some unusual odour on them. Should this happen, entrust them to wet nurses or sheep, or bottlefeed them.

Table 2. Daily food supply for the female (g/head/day)

Month

Silage

g

Dry roughage

g

Juicy

g

Fine

g

Mineral

g

Animal

ml

Salt (g)

Preparatory period

Sep

Mulberry 1/Zelkova/ Lettuce/Plum 2/ Apricot/Bean leaf 3/ Date leaf/Chinese cabbage/Sweet potato leaf

600

M. alba
M. cathayana/
M. mongolica/
P. Salicina/
P. Mume
P. Armeniaca

100

Potato Cushaw

150

Soybean Mung bean Maize Wheat bran

100

Inkfish bone meal/ Bone meal/ Synthetic minerals

6

Codliver oil

1

1

Oct

Mulberry/Sweet potato leaf/Chinese cabbage/ Turnip leaf/Bean leaf/ Box/Euonymus fortunei/ Pittosporum glabratum/ Beet leaf/Apple leaf.

600

125

Potato Cushaw Turnip Sweet potato

150

125

6

1

1

Breeding and gestational period

Nov

Chinese cabbage/Turnip leaf/Carrot leaf/Box/ Coriaria sinica/Euonymus fortunei/Pittosporum glabratum/Beet leaf/ Apple leaf

500

150

200

150

5

1

1

Dec

Box/Euonymus fortunei/Pittosporum glabratum/Coriaria sinica

500

150

200

150

5

1

1

Jan

Box/Euonymus fortunei/Pittosporum glabratum

500

150

Potato Sweet potato Turnip Carrot

200

150

5

1

1

Feb

500

150

200

150

5

1

1

Mar

550

150

200

150

6

1

1

Apr

Azalea/Chinese sumac/ Paper mulberry/Elm

550

100

125

6

2

1

Calving nursing period

May

Azalea/Chinese sumac/ Mulberry/Paper mulberry/Zelkova/Plum/Cherry

600

75

125

6

2

1

Jun

Mulberry/Zelkova/Plum/Lettuce/Bean leaf

600

75

125

6

2

0.5

Jul

600

75

Potato Cushaw

150

100

6

2

0.5

Aug

600

75

150

100

6

2

0.5

1 Mulberry: Morus alba/M. australis/M. cathayana/M. rnongolica/Coriaria sinica.
2 Plum: Prunus salicina/P. armeniaca/P. mume.
3 Bean leaf: Soybean/Cowpea/Phaseolus/Red bean/Mung bean.

The fawns start eating grass by themselves after 15 days, and should be given very fresh and tender grass and special, nutritious fodder to ensure their healthy growth.

Weaning is a crucial period in the farming of young musk-deer. The use of improper methods can cause many deaths.

Weaning should take place three months after birth. The fawns should be earmarked one month earlier, and the wound completely healed.

The young can be separated from their mothers in one operation, or one can proceed gradually, separating one small group at a time. Preferably, the fawns should stay in the old enclosures and, in any case, they should not be put into herds before they are one year old.

Since fodder is the only source of nutrition for the fawns, they must be given their favorite feed, of the best quality. The sick or weak ones should be fed separately, to make sure that they get through the winter without complications.

Domestication. The domestication of musk-deer under artificial conditions is totally different from domestication in the animal’s natural habitat. In musk-deer farming, domestication means changing the deer’s wild nature and habits through man’s efforts, hence bringing them under control. This can be done on an individual basis, working on each deer separately, or in groups, changing their unsociable disposition by putting them into herds right away.

Generally, it is easier to tame each musk-deer before putting into herds while, as a result of group domestication, the individual disposition of each musk-deer can be further improved. These two ways can therefore supplement each other.

Close up of a musk deer

Close up of a musk deerThe musk-deer is hard to domesticate because of its peculiar traits. Unless its capturers know its living habits, the animal may easily die. It is therefore essential, in musk-deer farming, to learn everything possible about its way of life and its relation to its environment.

Wild musk-deer usually live in coniferous forests, mixed coniferous and broad-leaf forests, as well as in areas with broad-leaf trees or shrubs at altitudes from 1000 m to 4200 m above sea-level. The domesticated ones can also live normally in mountain areas, highlands and plains at 400 m to 2600 m above sea-level if the climate is humid and cool in summer.

Throughout its life, the musk-deer inhabits a rather fixed area and seldom changes. When scared by something and forced to leave, it always comes back as quickly as possible, sometimes risking its life to return to its home range. However, due to seasonal changes in food and water resources, the musk-deer has to make certain up-and-down migrations within a limited area.

This habit is popularly described as up in July, down in August and back in September. The musk-deer leads a very regular life. It often goes out for food or moves about at dusk, dawn or during the night, or also in daytime when it is cloudy or drizzling. On fine days, it likes to chew the cud or take a nap in a high, cool and shady place from which it may have a broad view of the surroundings. It also has a regular time and place for defecating.

Its sense of hearing, smell and sight are good. It is sharp-witted and always very cautious and sensitive. It often stops, pricking up its ears, to look around while doing something and resumes its activities when reassured that nothing unusual is happening. The musk deer runs fast and jumps high. It can change steps on a cliff and even go up the stem of a tree at a 45° angle from the ground.

However, the self-defence ability of a musk-deer is low. All it can do to flee from its enemies-jackals, wolves or leopards-is to run away fast or climb up steep hills and inclines, where few can follow.

The musk-deer is irascible and scares easily. Whenever it sees or hears something unusual, its hair stands on end on both back and buttocks, it becomes short of breath and its heart beats faster. To express this fear, it first sniffs, twitching its nose, and then lets out a cry sounding something like “ken-pu, ken-pu”. It may also leap forward and then stamp its hoofs heavily to threaten possible enemies.

The musk-deer likes to be alone and does not live in groups. Only during the mating season can one see a male and a female following one another, or a female being followed by two males. The deer live apart during the rest of the year. As the musk-deer is unsociable and rather territorial, the males, especially those above one year old, always fight against each other. However, adult males rarely fight against the females and the young.

The musk-deer eats many varieties of food. Of 180 edible plants, more than 90 are part of its regular diet, including leaves, stems, flowers, fruits and seeds. An adult musk-deer eats from 1 to 1,5 kg of grass every 24 hours and starts ruminating soon after eating.

Generally speaking, the sex ability of the musk-deer matures at 18 months. The oestrus of the male lasts from September to April. During this period, the male goes chasing after the female and often calls her with a special bleat. The oestrus of the female lasts from late October to early March. When this period comes, the female always feels restless, strolls about, urinates and sniffs at things wherever she goes, and likes to get closer to other musk-deer. Distinct changes can be observed on the vaginal orifice at this time. Quite often, when females are mating or feel a strong sexual urge they emit bleats sounding like “mei” or “en-en”.

The cycle of the heat period is of 1825 days and lasts from 36 to 60 hours each time. The gestational period varies from 178 to 192 days. Births occur during May and June or no later than early September, each female usually bearing two fawns, rarely one or three.

The fawn can open its eyes, shake its head and sniff immediately after birth and stands and moves about 10 to 15 minutes later. It bleats when suckling, kicking the breast with both front legs or with two legs alternately. While nursing, the female licks the anus and the urethra of the young, thus stimulating their functions, licking up their excretions immediately. After nursing, the doe moves her young to a shaded place for rest.

Meanwhile, the changes which mark the growth of the young begin to take place and continue until maturity – these concern hair, tail, teeth, weight, height, length, as well as a series of other physiological changes.

Individual domestication. Try to approach and stroke the young when seven days old, twice or three times a day. The length, each time, should be decided according to the animal’s reaction. Make sure not to act rashly, just stroke and scratch it lightly.

Those that respond well to this treatment could be led on a leash within the enclosures. Once they are completely adapted to it, they can be herded in the open country. By so doing, the musk-deer will never run away. On the contrary, they move about freely, eat whatever they like and return to their own enclosures.

Group domestication. Divide the weaners into different herds. Feed according to fixed quantity, at a set time and place, so that they learn to get along well when eating and resting together. New steps may also be taken such as giving a certain sound signal to develop their sense of gathering together. Throughout this period, try to get the deer accustomed to various outside stimuli so they remain calm all the time and lose their fear of the unexpected.

Prevention and treatment of diseases. This is an indispensable part of musk deer farming since diseases are hard to avoid under artificial conditions. Prevention is more important than cure. There are dozens of common diseases such as catarrhal rhinitis, pneumonia, pulmonary hyperaemia and haemorrhage, indigestion, gastroenteritis, constipation, cystitis, nephritis, osteomalacia, rickets, rotten sweet potato poisoning, salt poisoning, abscess, fracture, trauma, dystocia and trichomoniasis.

The following measures should be adopted to bring down the incidence of diseases:

· Build up the animal’s health;· Examine regularly in vigour, hair, temperature, visible mucous membrane, breath, rumination, excrement and urine, etc.;

· Sterilize the enclosures and utensils regularly;

· Give check-ups on parasitic diseases;

· Eradicate mosquitoes, flies and rats.

Selection of the farming site. The selection of the right site for musk deer farming is very important. Production and scientific experiments will be affected if the site is not ideal. Therefore, an overall investigation of natural and social conditions is highly necessary to make sure that the site selected accords with the demands. These are the essential requirements:

· Mountain area, highland or plain 400-2600 m above sea-level with smooth and broad terrain where rain-water can be easily drained. On the lee side, it should be sunny and with hard soil;· The temperature should not vary greatly between day and night. It should be humid and cool in summer;

· Areas need to have sufficient food supply, such as a forestry area, agricultural area or vegetable planting area;

· Clean water supply such as wells, springs or running water. River water should be specially treated before using;

· Transport facilities;

· Power supply:

· Site should be far from residential areas, mines, schools, hospitals or other animal farms.

Musk extraction and secretion

Musk extraction. Success in getting musk out of living musk-deer has ended the thousand-year-long traditional method described as ‘killing the hen to get the egg”. It has had great significance for the conservation and rational use of the existing wild musk-deer resources. Facts have proved that extracting musk from living musk-deer does not in any way harm their growth, breeding and health. To extract musk: take hold of the musk-deer and lay it on its back on the operator’s knees, or strap it to a working table.

Next, hold the musk cyst from the bottom with the left forefinger and middle finger. Hold down the opening with the left thumb and shield the musk cyst with the third finger and little finger. With the scoop in the right hand, press the opening of the cyst gently to introduce the scoop. Deposit the musk in a container. Finally, apply some antiphlogistic ointment on the cyst opening, then put the musk-deer into a shed to rest for one or two hours before giving it some water and feed.

The musk itself should be weighed and then put into a desiccator. It should be kept in an airtight container to protect it from dampness and mildew.

The regular pattern of musk secretion and its mechanism. Every year from May to July, a periodic physiological reaction during the peak period of musk secretion affects the deer and lasts from three to six days. When this happens, the deer becomes excited, refuses food and stops defecating. The testes and epididymis get distended. The musk cyst is bloated with fluid. The fluid might ooze out, emitting a strong odour.

During this period, the gland cells of the musk cyst secrete a great quantity of early musk secretion which will gradually become ripe musk. After the peak period, the white secretion of the gland cells could also change into musk while musk ketone is still effective.

Status of musk secretion varies for different aging periods as follows. At 6 months old-little white secretion with malodorous smell; 10-13 months old-beginning of the physiological reaction of musk secretion; 12-15 months old-ripe musk can be extracted; 3-14 years old – the musk producing period; 14 years old and above-less musk produced each year; 20 years old – ability to secrete musk still exists.

Musk secreting and ripening are closely related to the sexual gland. The existence of testes and epididymis bring; about the yearly periodic physiological reaction which causes the secretion of great amounts of musk ketone and early musk. The secretion can become ripe musk when the musk ketone is effective. Experiments show that the male sex hormone from the testes is the decisive factor for musk ketone secretion, while it has little effect on early musk secretion from the gland cells of the musk sack.