The origin of the word musk is in Sanskrit –‘मुस्क – अलभ्यम्’ (which means rare). Another word for the same is मुष्कवत् which means testicles. Probably this signals the discharge of musk by a male deer. Only a male deer can have such glands. It is believed that this secretion is used to mark the territory or to attract the female partner. They are mainly found in the countries like India, Russia, China and Mongolia. During the breeding season, a male deer releases the musk with its urine (which is pink in its colour) Breeding time is November and December while the calves are born after six months. In China almost 100,000 musk deers were existing once, while in Russia 1,500,00 according to government, (some independent studies indicate that they were only 70,000 ).
The pod containing musk becomes active in a deer at the age of two years. Each musk pod (weighs about 15 gm) where the evil eyes of the poacher set. The price of musk per gram is 2$ to3$ per gram. A poacher can get 70 $ per pod sometimes in the international market.
Due to illegal hunting the number of musk deer is reported to be reduced by 50% in Russia. According to Walker Homes , a wildlife expert of Germany , pods containing 400 to 450 kg musk were illegally traded in Russia only. Hunting of musk deer is unlawful in Mongolia since 1953, but all in vain. Previously this animal used to exist throughout the Himalayan region in India, but now a days their population is confined to the higher Himalayas only as the mountains have become bald. Now they are found in the pastures located on high altitudes of 2500 meters. Many poachers use net or wire to trap the animals. The whole group is killed, however only the male deer contains the fragrant substance.
Menka Gandhi, a popular activist has mentioned in an article : “Poachers cut open the live animal, take the pod and leave it to die in agony.” Such events are common in the Himalayan regions, especially Arunachal Praedsh. “Hundreds of snares lie scattered over the Himalayas…… not a single poacher has been caught.” Says Menka.
The old males containing larger pods have been killed. The musk is in the large demand as it is used in the manufacture of perfume, soap and some medicines. According to Michel Green, a conservation biologist, the lack of the means of livelihood may be one of the reasons. He considers the unemployment (especially in Russia) as the leading factor responsible for such illegal trade.
Shyness is another noticeable feature of this animal. It generally comes out in dusk. The hunters play a trick to bring them out. They burn the grass and trees to create smoke! Moreover, the lower part of the grassland is burnt so the way to escape is blocked. The deer run towards higher areas, where the hawkers are ready with their rifles! Such occurrences are not uncommon in Panchchuli regions of Uttarkhand.
India has established a Sanctuary for the conservation and protection of this endangered animal in Askot, the Kumaon Himalayas .Similarly, Kedarnath Wild Life Sanctuary also works in the same direction. Let us pray for the safety and security of this timid animal.
By Milind Majumdar