First Afghan Fanged Deer Seen in More Than 60 Years

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A fanged creature not seen in Afghanistan for more than 60 years has been spotted by a research team in the northeast part of the country.

The Kashmir musk deer was last seen in Afghanistan in 1948. But a team headed up by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reports in the October 22 issue of the journal Oryx that it made five sightings in a range of land that included alpine meadows and steep, rocky outcrops.

The sightings featured a solitary male that was spotted three different times in the same area, as well as one female with a juvenile deer and one solitary female. The area where they were seen was scattered with dense bushes of juniper and rhododendron.

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Unfortunately, the extremely skittish deer, already difficult to spot, did not remain in place long enough to be photographed, the team said.

The Kashmir musk deer is one of seven similar species in Asia and is considered endangered due to habitat loss and poaching. The deer's scent glands are a high-ticket black market item -- deer musk has been used for ages in perfume, incense, and medical applications -- and can be worth more than $20,000 per pound.

The male of the distinctive herbivores has telltale fangs used during mating season as weapons to joust for mates. For deer, they are small and a bit stocky, topping out at barely more than 2 feet tall at the shoulder.

"Musk deer are one of Afghanistan's living treasures," said Peter Zahler, co-author of the study and WCS deputy director of Asia programs. "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."

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