The Himalayan musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster), is a shy solitary, Himalayan
mammal listed as endangered under the IUCN category (CITES-appendix I and IUCN
Red Data Book). Musk deer are commonly known as Kasturi Mriga in Nepali and
Lah in the Tibetan language spoken in the mountainous western region of Nepal.
There are five species of musk deer; the Siberian (Moschus moschiferus),
black (Moschus fuscus), forest (M. berezovskii), alpine (M.
sifanicus) and Himalayan musk deer (M. chrysogaster). They are distributed
through at least 13 countries in South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Eastern
Russia (Homes, 2004; Xiuxianga et
al., 2006; Aryal et al., 2010). Populations
are currently in decline-the result of habitat loss and intensive illegal hunting
for musk (Homes, 1999). The Himalayan musk deer, one
of six deer species that occur in Nepal, belong to order Artiodactyla, family
Moschidae. The species is protected in Nepal by the National Park and Wildlife
Conservation act 1973.
The Himalayan musk deer are distributed throughout the mountainous regions
of the country, which covers 30177.19 km2 with 5815.08 km2
of potential habitat used inside protected areas (Aryal
and Subedi, 2011) including: Api Namppa Conservation Area (ANCA), Khaptad
National Park (KNP), Rara National Park (RNP), Shey Phoksundo National Park
(SPNP), Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve (DHR), Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA),
Manaslu Conservation Area (MCA), Langtang National Park (LNP), Gaurishankar
Conservation Area (GCA), Sagarmatha National Park (SNP), Makalu Barun National
Park (MBNP) and Kanchanjanga National Park (KCP) from the western to the eastern
part of the country (Aryal and Subedi, 2011; Aryal
et al., 2010).
Himalayan musk deer are the most primitive and smallest of the Himalayan ungulates
living in a cold environment (Schaller, 1977). Extensive
hunting (legal or illegal) over a long period for musk has resulted in a sharp
decline of populations such that Moschus spp. have become endangered
and in some areas, locally extinct. Since 1979, all musk deer have been included
in the Appendices of CITES (Zhou et al., 2004).
Research on musk deer has been undertaken only in a few protected areas of Nepal and includes conservation needs, initial population status, habitat ecology of the species and threats in order to determine the necessary conservation initiatives. This is the first study regarding the musk deer in the Manaslu Conservation Area. The research aims were to explore the current population status, habitat ecology (in terms of preference/avoidance) and conservation issues of Himalayan musk deer specific to the MCA of western Nepal.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Status and distribution: Field work was conducted in June and July 2010.
A faecal pellet count method was used to determine the current population status
of musk deer in the study area. Fifteen transect strips each 500 m long and
20 m wide (10 m each side), were established in the forest representing altitudinal
variation and potential habitat. Wherever possible, livestock and human tracks
were used. Very fresh to 30 day old pellets were counted and categorized on
the basis of freshness and deposited layer of the pellet by researchers and
local people. Standardized protocols were developed to ensure uniformity while
walking in the transects e.g., time of day, search effort etc. Distribution
sites were verified by field observation and GPS locations were recorded for
each encounter of musk deer sign (Giriraj et al.,
2008). Arc GIS 9.3 was used to prepare musk deer distribution maps.
Assessment to determine habitat ecology: Random sampling was used to
determine habitat parameters in the field. Habitat use plots (U) and availability
plots (A) were taken throughout the study area. Habitat use plots were laid
out with the spacing of at least 50 m from musk deer sign (e.g., pellet, hair,
foot print, resting site). At the same time other parameters such as slope,
altitude, crown cover, ground cover and topography were recorded at each plot.
The habitat availability plots (A) were selected in a random direction from
the use plots at a distance of 100-150 m (Aryal et al.,
2010) with the same additional parameters from the use plots recorded. If
musk deer sign was found within an availability plot then they were counted
as use plots. In total, vegetation analysis was completed for 86 use and availability
plots and evaluated as by Schemnitz (1980). Analysis included
10x10 m crown cover (i.e., tree layer-plants above 3 m height and 10 cm DBH-Diameter
at Breast Height), 4x4 m shrub layer (woody plants below 3 m height) and 1x1
m plots for herbs (plants up to 1 m height). Slope at each site was measured
using Abneys level. In each plot, we recorded DBH, height, crown cover,
ground cover, frequency of trees shrubs and herbs and other animal sign (Zakaria
et al., 2009; Md-Zain and Chng, 2011).
|| Study area (Pork VDC) inside the Manaslu conservation area
The presence of other animals was recorded to determine habitat overlap with
musk deer. The level of anthropogenic activity within each site was also noted
(Moradi et al., 2009; Mokonnen
et al., 2011).
Ivlevs electivity index (IV): Habitat preference of musk deer
was calculated using Ivlevs electivity index (IV), the values of which
range from -1.0 to+1.0. Positive values indicate habitat preference, negative
values avoidance and 0 indicates random use (Ivlev, 1961).
A one way ANOVA was used to test the significance of habitat parameters (Ivlev,
1961; Krebs, 1989 followed by Aryal
et al., 2010):
Threat identification: To identify the threats of musk deer a questionnaire schedule was used. Informal discussions were also held with the local staff, local people and herders to further identify threats and conservation issues. Field observation was used to evaluate anthropogenic pressure and domestic grazing in the potential habitat of musk deer.
Study area: Manaslu was declared a conservation area in December 1998
by Government of Nepal (GON) under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation
Act 1973. It covers an area of 16632 km (Fig. 1).
The region harbours a mosaic of habitats for 38 species of mammals, 201 species
of birds, 13 species of butterflies and 5 species of reptiles (NTNC,
2011). There are approx 2000 species of plants, 13 types of forests. The
bio-climatic zones vary from sub-tropical to nival. Altitude increases from
600 m (msl) to 8,163 m at the summit of Mt. Manaslu, the eighth highest peak
in the world (DNPWC, 2011). The major ethnic group in
the region is Bhotia (Tibetan origin) in all VDCs except Sirdibas, however,
some would prefer to be referred to as lamas. In Sirdibas, Gurung and Karki
are the major ethnic group. Most of the residents are Buddhist. The topography
of the region consists of steep rocky mountains. The land is poor and not suitable
for agricultural crops. Local agriculture barely supplies sufficient food for
three months in the MCA. Mules are the major source of transportation. The main
occupations are agriculture, animal husbandry, wage labour and NTFPs collection.
Musk deer were found to be distributed in all seven VDCs of the Manaslu Conservation Area but mostly within a 35.43 km2 area of Prok VDC (Fig. 2). Major distribution areas were Mayar Danda, Thopa Ghyapsa, Gumba, Dhama, Kaal Tal, Sima and Thuldhunga forest area, ranging from 3128-4039 m with the pellet density of 22.21 pellets ha-1.
Altitude preference: Altitude was divided into six categories of
200 m intervals from <3200 to >4000 m to analyze the habitat preference.
Musk deer mostly preferred the altitudinal range of 3601 to 3800 m (IV = 0.2).
Altitudinal preference gradually increased from 3201 to 3800 m and randomly
used 3801 to 4000 m (IV = 0). The deer avoided areas below 3200 m (IV = -0.2)
and above 4000 m (IV = -0.67). There was a significant difference in use of
different altitude intervals in proportion to their availability (F = 5.87,
p<0.05) (Fig. 3).
|| Distribution of Himalayan musk deer in prok VDC of MCA
|| Altitude preferences
|| Slope preferences
|| Crown cover preferences
Slope preference: Slope was divided into 5 categories of 10° intervals from 0 to >40°. Musk deer mostly preferred a 21 to 30° slope (IV = 0.18). Slope preference gradually increased from 11 to 30° and slightly decreased up to 40°. The deer avoided slopes less than 10° (IV = -0.2) and greater than 40° (IV = -0.63). There was a significant difference between the use of different slopes in proportion to their availability (F = 5.22, p<0.05) (Fig. 4).
Crown cover preference: Crown cover was divided in to four categories for analysis. Musk deer used the crown cover for camouflage and thermal regulation. The deer preferred the crown cover of 26 to 50% (IV = 0.18) with 0 to 25% and 51 to 75% found to be used randomly. The 76 to 100% (IV = -0.6) slope was completely avoided. There was a significant difference in the use of different crown cover in proportion to their availability by musk deer (F = 5.40, p<0.05) (Fig. 5).
Ground cover preference: Musk deer used the ground cover for grazing, camouflage and thermal regulation. Ground cover was divided in to four categories for the analysis. The deer preferred 0 to 25% (IV = 0.05) and 26 to 50% (IV = 0.10) ground cover and avoided 76 to 100% (IV = - 0.72), while 51 to 75% (IV = 0) ground cover was used randomly. This shows that musk deer preferred sparse and moderate ground cover. There was significant difference in the use of different ground cover in proportion to their availability (F = 4.81, p<0.05) (Fig. 6).
|| Ground cover preferences
|| Ground feature preference
|| Tree species preference
Ground feature preference: Ground condition is divided in to six categories for analysis and the pellet group in each category recorded. Most pellets were recorded in forest and so it is concluded that musk deer prefer forest habitat (IV = 0.17). Cliff (IV = 0) and rock (IV = 0) was found to be used randomly and gullies (IV = -0.67) and streambeds (IV = -0.43) were found to be avoided completely. There was a significant difference in use of different ground feature in proportion to their availability (F = 3.29, p<0.05) (Fig. 7).
Tree species preference: Plants above 3 m in height and 10 cm in dbh were categorised as trees and recorded in the 10x10 m2 plots. Altogether 9 species of tree were identified in 86 plots. Musk deer showed preference for 6 species (especially Betula utilis (IVI = 17.33, IV = 0.03), Abies spectabilis (IVI = 96.70, IV = 0.04), Acer spp. (IVI = 0.70, IV = 0.27) and Rhododendron spp. and avoidance for 3; Pinus wallichiana (IVI = 3.64, IV = -0.43), Cupressus spp. (IVI = 4.69, IV = -0.39) and Sorbus spp. (IVI = 5.94, IV = -0.65) (Table 1).
Shrub species preference: Woody plants below 3 m in height were categorised
as the shrubs and recorded in 4x4 m2 plots nested within the tree
plots. A total of 10 species of shrub were recorded in 86 plots.
|| Shrub species preference
|| Herb species preference
Musk deer preferred Cupressus spp. (IV = 0.46), Abies spectabilis
(IV = 0.35), Acer spp. (IV = 0.37) and Hydrangea spp. (IV
= 0.04), while Betula utilis (IV= -0.160, Pinus wallichiana (IV
= -0.16), Berberis angulosa (IV = -0.16), Sorbus spp. -0.42, Rhododendron
spp. (IV = -0.11) and Viburnum spp. (IV = -0.47) were avoided (Table
Herb species preference by musk deer: Out of 16 recorded herb species, 9 were preferred and 7 were avoided by musk deer. Oplismenus compositus (IV = 0.03), Equisetum debile (IV = 0.41), Arundinaria spp. (IV = 0.03), Moss (IV = 0.57), Capsella bursa-pastoris (IV = 0.10), Fern (IV = 0.15), Polygonatum spp. (IV = 0.10), Bergenia ciliate (IV = 0.24) and Cassiope fastigiata (IV = 0.10) were the preferred species. Geranium nakaoanum (IV = -0.10), Primula sikkimensis (IV = -0.10), Anemone obtusiloba (IV = -0.17), Oxyria digyna (IV = - 0.12), Primula macrophylla (IV = -0.42), Potentilla fruticosa (IV = -0.10) and Iris goniocarpa (IV = -0.13) were the avoided species (Table 3).
Aryal et al. (2010) found that the musk deer
randomly use the habitat below 3000 m and completely avoid habitat above 4000
m in Sagarmatha National Park of Nepal, while, Green (1985)
recorded the musk deer within the altitudinal range of 2500-4500 m. This research
shows a distribution within the altitudinal range 3128-4039 m. In general, ranges
below 3200 m and above 4000 m are avoided by the Himalayan musk deer. Below
3200 m, blue pine forest is dominant in the MCA, with the deposition of the
needles suppressing growth of ground level browse. Deposition of pine needles
without decomposition on the steep slopes also causes difficulties for fast
moving animals when they need to escape predators. Above 4000 m the land is
a treeless, rocky terrain lacking in sufficient water.
Habitat preference increased above the 3200 m up to 3800 m in altitude and
is highly preferred between 3600 to 3800 m. This may be because of the dominance
of Betula utilis, Abies spectabilis and Rhododendron spp.
forest. The preference for these major tree species is similar with the findings
of Aryal et al. (2010). A lake lies at an altitude
of 3700 m which provides a necessary water source for the musk deer both summer
and winter. The permanent water source and gentle slope are thought to be the
reason for the high preference of this range by the musk deer. Although livestock
herding covers a small area concentrated near the lake, musk deer concentrate
in the same area because of the water. Thus there is a habitat overlap with
the livestock in this area.
This overlap results in a high impact zone due the animal herding by the local community. The herders graze their livestock in the high mountains, especially in the summer season, bringing the cattle down to the village in winter. Although, this altitudinal range has high cattle pressure, musk deer are recorded as close as 300 m from the cattle. This is because of the preference for the habitat (e.g., slope) plus the presence of many small caves. Caves are found to be highly utilised by the deer for the thermal and escape cover. Musk deer randomly used open areas while completely avoiding highly dense forest with very low light penetration. Similarly, gullies and streambeds are completely avoided because they are difficult to traverse.
Poaching was found to be the major conservation threat in the MCA. Since the
musk deer area is far from the village and also from the conservation area project
office there is lack of sufficient monitoring to control poaching. The main
reason for the intense hunting of musk deer has always been the demand for musk.
A significant increase in the price of musk in the international market has
lead to a parallel increase in poaching and smuggling from the Himalayan habitat
and in different parts of the world, particularly in Hong Kong, China and Japan
(Xiuxianga et al., 2006; Aryal,
2006; Aryal et al., 2010; Aryal
and Subedi, 2011).
Most questionnaire respondents are Buddhists and denied the involvement of local people in poaching and illegal trade. This is because it is against the Buddhist faith to kill livestock or cattle, even for meat, which ultimately helps to reduce poaching. Poachers are believed to be outsiders from the different parts of Nepal who generally come over the winter season-when the herders have brought their livestock down to the village-and therefore are less likely to be seen. However, the herders are aware of the poaching. Poachers use snares to kill the musk deer in frequently travelled areas. At times, herders have arrested the poachers from the neighbouring district turning them over to the police. There is a local level Conservation Area Management Committee (CAMC) in this VDC formed by the conservation area management authority with the aim of conservation and management of the overall forest, controlling poaching and illegal activities at the local level.
It is suggested community involvement could be strengthened to control the poaching through frequent participation in monitoring with the conservation area management authorities. In addition a separate conservation action plan should be developed and implemented. Eco-friendly income generating initiatives should be encouraged to support local livelihoods and contribute to the sustainable conservation of the musk deer species and biodiversity as a whole.
First author thank to Manaslu Conservation Area Project for the research fund and Mr. Madhu Chetri for his support during the field study.