Musk deer with radiocollar
The Far-eastern musk deer is a species in decline, primarily due to poaching and unsustainable harvest of the valuable musk gland (used in the perfume industry) found only in males. Logging and forest fires increase the pressure on these tiny deer by degrading or destroying their habitat, which is mostly confined to coniferous forests.
Our program to study and develop management recommendations for musk deer began in 2010 as a joint effort with the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Reserve (where the study is based) the Pacific Institute of Geography, the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution.Our study area is focused in the northeastern portion of Sikhote-Alin Reserve. Data on musk deer ecology are collected using a variety of methods, including radio tracking, snow tracking, and camera trapping. Six animals have been tagged with collars and monitored daily since 2010; at present we are monitoring three individuals. Radio tracking allows us to understand home range sizes required by musk deer, habitat requirements, daily travel distances, behavior, food habits, and daily activity patterns.
Musk deer near the cage trap
The fact that musk deer quickly become accustomed to human presence means that prolonged direct visual observations are possible once a radio-tagged animal has been located. V.A. Zaitsev of Severtsov Institute, a participant in this study, was the first to demonstrate this potential with his earlier observations of musk deer in the Sikhote-Alin. We now use this method to obtain information about a deer’s physical condition, molt status, foraging behavior, daily travel distances in the snow-free periods (when it is not possible to snow-track individuals), and other aspects of musk deer ecology.
Camera traps are also being employed to study of musk deer ecology as well. Traps are installed in places most frequented by the deer, including regular beds, latrines (musk deer have a habit of defecating and scent-marking repeated at specific locations), and trails. By established camera traps at these sites we can determine how often a musk deer returns to the same bed site to rest, changes in the physical condition and molting patterns of animals, document how individuals mark their territories, and sometimes even capture interactions between individuals. We are also exploring whether it is possible to identify individuals based on their unique marking patterns, which would allow us to use camera traps to count individuals in a region.
Musk deer have a habit of defecating at specific locations
This suite of research methods we are employing will allow us to reveal poorly-understood aspects of its ecology and the degree to which natural and anthropogenic factors influence population parameters such as abundance, distribution, and survival. We hope the insights we obtain will assist us in making recommendations to secure a bright future for this tiny, but intriguing member of the deer family.
Dasha Maksimova is setting up the camera trap
in musk deer habitat to monitor their movements