A rare deer species with vampire-like fangs, last seen more than 60 years ago, has been discovered still roaming in northeast Afghanistan, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) confirm.
Known as the Kashmir musk deer - one of seven similar species found in Asia - it hasn't been spotted in the region's rugged forest slopes since 1948.
Wanted for their valuable scent glands, which secret fluids used in traditional Chinese medicine, this species has suffered from poaching by humans. That, in combination with habitat loss, is what's led the musk deer to be listed as "endangered" on the IUCN's Red List.
The authors of the study, published in the journal Oryx, believe that targeted conservation of the species and its habitat are needed for it to survive in Afghanistan.
"Musk deer are one of Afghanistan's living treasures," co-author Peter Zahler, WCS Deputy Director of Asia Programs, said in a press release. "This rare species, along with better known wildlife such as snow leopards, are the natural heritage of this struggling nation. We hope that conditions will stabilize soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species."
So far the survey team recorded five sightings, including a lone male on three occasions, a female with a juvenile, and another solitary female, which was possibly the same animal they had seen but without her young. According to the researchers, all the deer were extremely difficult to spot and near impossible to photograph considering they were sighted in rocky outcrops within alpine meadows containing dense bushes of juniper and rhododendron.
Unlike most other species of deer, the male musk deer don't have antlers. Instead, they have fangs that protrude like tusks from the animal's mouth, making them look like creepy vampires. But these fangs in fact have a purpose, and it's not for sucking blood. Males use them to compete with other males during mating season.
"These creatures are diminutive - an adult weighs little more than a cocker spaniel - and with their large ears, perpetually stooped posture, and massive hind legs, they can look more like kangaroos than deer," the WCS said.
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