Himalayan musk deer talk to each other through poop, but poachers are also listening

Himalayan musk deer talk to each other through poop, but poachers are also listening



KATHMANDU — On April 25, 2020, barely a month after the country went into COVID-19 lockdown, authorities at Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park reported “one of the worst cases of poaching in recent years”: Six Himalayan musk deer (Moschus leucogaster) had been found killed by poachers.

Officials from the park, situated in the Everest foothills, said they believed the poachers had removed the scent gland from one of the male deer. The Himalayan musk deer, commonly known as kasturi in South Asia, is an endangered species in the region. The bucks’ scent glands, or pods, have long been sought after to make perfume and traditional medicine, and can fetch hundreds of dollars.

The animals only come out at dawn, dusk and night, and make limited sounds. But they’re easy targets for poachers, who rely on traditional knowledge of the species — something that researchers are only recently starting to understand — to locate and trap the animals.

One such piece of knowledge is that latrine sites, where the deer defecate, hold a special significance for the species.

“Himalayan musk deer are very faithful to their latrine sites. They seldom defecate outside of their latrine sites,” said Paras Bikram Singh, lead author of a recent study on how the deer use their latrine sites for communication. According to the paper, musk deer were found sniffing at the latrine site even when it was covered with snow.

Lead Image: A Himalayan musk deer at Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal. Image courtesy of Nepal Tourism Board.

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