Moschus leucogasterHimalayan musk deer

Geographic Range

Himalayan musk deer reside in the Himalayan mountain range, particularly within the countries of Bhutan, India, Nepal, and a small part of China. The geographic range of the Himalayan musk deer has sharply declined in recent years due to predation, trapping by humans, and habitat destruction. (Timmins and Duckworth, 2008)


Himalayan musk deer are thought to inhabit a similar habitat to their close relative Moschus chrysogaster, which occupies meadows, shrublands, and sparse forests, such as fir forests. Because Himalayan musk deer roam at elevations higher than 2,500 m, their habitat predominantly consists of vegetation typical of alpine regions. This mountainous species is accustomed to navigating moderately to very steep slopes. (Aryal, 2005; Green, 1978; Nyambayar, et al., 2008)

  • Range elevation
    2500 (low) m
    8202.10 (low) ft

Physical Description

Himalayan musk deer weigh around 11 to 18 kg and are 86 to 100 cm in length. They are sandy brown in color, with slightly darker rumps and limbs. The ventral side of their bodies ranges from gray to white. The rounded backs and long alert ears of the Himalayan musk deer contribute to their "hare-like" resemblance. Although both sexes have long upper canines, the males' grow longer, up to 7 to 10 cm. The canines break easily, but tooth growth is continuous. In addition, male Himalayan musk deer have a musk sac (between their reproduction organs and umbilicus) and a caudal gland (at the base of their tail), both of which play a role in communication. The musk gland attracts females during mating season, and the caudal gland is used to mark territory. Uniquely, the females have a single pair of mammae. Himalayan musk deer also have gall bladders, a characteristic that distinguishes musk deer from other deer. Additionally, musk deer do not have antlers. ("Family Moschidae", 2009; "Musk Deer", 2009; Aryal, 2005; "Himalayan musk deer (Moschus moschiferus moschiferus)", 2010)

Moschus leucogaster was once considered the same species as Moschus chrysogaster, as both species have similar life history traits and characteristics. Moschus leucogaster was separated from Moschus chrysogaster based on skull size proportions, though it is difficult to distinguish one species from another by sight. Groves, Yingxiang, and Grubb (1995) suggest a difference in the appearance of the throat: while M. chrysogaster have distinct white stripes or a white patch on their throats, this characteristic is vague in Moschus leucogaster, if present at all. (Groves, et al., 1995; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    11 to 18 kg
    24.23 to 39.65 lb
  • Range length
    86 to 100 cm
    33.86 to 39.37 in


During the mating season, male Himalayan musk deer become anxious, competitive, and eat little. While protecting their territory, which encompasses the home ranges of several females, males fight one another using their long canine teeth as weapons. The females demonstrate exhaustion and attempt to stay in hiding. The male's musk sac is key in attracting females during the mating season; the sac emanates a strong smell meant to lure the females from hiding. (Aryal, 2005; "Himalayan musk deer (Moschus moschiferus moschiferus)", 2010)

Himalayan musk deer mate between November and January, although some females may not mate until March. The gestation period is 185 to 195 days. One to two young are typically born between May and June and nurse from their mother for about 2 months. During this time, the young remain in hiding, independent of their mothers except when feeding.

Around 6 months of age, young Himalayan musk deer are weaned and able to consume food from their surroundings, becoming completely independent. Young deer become sexually mature by 16 to 24 months of age. ("Family Moschidae", 2009; Aryal, 2005; Nyambayar, et al., 2008)

  • Breeding interval
    Himalayan musk deer breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Mating of Himalayan musk deer occurs between November and January.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Range gestation period
    185 to 195 days
  • Average weaning age
    6 months
  • Average time to independence
    6 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    16 to 24 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    16 to 24 months

Parental investment is minimal in Himalayan musk deer. Young deer nurse from their mothers when necessary but otherwise stay in hiding, unaccompanied by either parent. ("Family Moschidae", 2009; Green, 1978; "Himalayan musk deer (Moschus moschiferus moschiferus)", 2010)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female


Himalayan musk deer typically live for 10 to 14 years in the wild. (Nyambayar, et al., 2008)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    10 to 14 years


Himalayan musk deer are solitary, terricolous creatures that usually try to conceal themselves in vegetation. They are primarily active during the morning and evening hours, often when feeding. Himalayan musk deer have a distinctive bounding gait. They can jump as far as 6 m, which is advantageous when being chased by slower predators. Some cervids, including the Himalayan musk deer, tend to designate certain areas as latrines, choosing a spot used only for deification. They urinate elsewhere. Although the reason for this behavior is unknown, it is increasingly practiced during the mating season. ("Family Moschidae", 2009; "Musk Deer", 2009; Green, 1978; "Himalayan musk deer (Moschus moschiferus moschiferus)", 2010)

  • Average territory size
    0.22 km^2

Home Range

Himalayan musk deer are sedentary, occupying small home ranges of up 0.22 km^2, though males defend a much larger territory. Male Himalayan musk deer are quite territorial of other males and fight those which attempt to enter their territory. Members of this species are thought to use latrine sites and other strong-smelling secretions to mark their territory. (Green, 1978; "Himalayan musk deer (Moschus moschiferus moschiferus)", 2010)

Communication and Perception

Himalayan musk deer have a highly acute sense of smell. As a result, males mark their territories by rubbing their caudal gland against vegetation. This secretion also deters rivals during the breeding season. Himalayan musk deer make a double hiss sound when alarmed and may even scream when wounded. They are also alerted danger through their good sense of hearing. ("Family Moschidae", 2009; "Musk Deer", 2009; Aryal, 2005)

Food Habits

Himalayan musk deer are herbivores and feed on what is seasonally available. Accordingly, they eat grasses, forbs, mosses, lichen, twigs, shoots, and plant leaves. They are ruminants, so they can quickly leave feeding grounds if threatened and further digest their food at a later time when safe from harm. ("Family Moschidae", 2009; "Musk Deer", 2009)

Occasionally, Himalayan musk deer travel great distances at night to forage for food. They may travel 3 to 7 km per night, but they always return to their usual territories by daybreak. (Nyambayar, et al., 2008)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • bryophytes
  • lichens
  • Other Foods
  • fungus


Himalayan musk deer attempt to conceal themselves within vegetation to avoid predators. The dull brown color of their coats minimizes their chance of detection. Predators include leopard, lynx, yellow-throated marten, red fox, grey wolf, wild dogs, and humans. Large birds of prey also occasionally kill young musk deer. When chased, Himalayan musk deer seek mountainside shelters in which to hide. If none are easily found, the deer use their speed to run in circles, hoping to lose the predator. Himalayan musk deer, however, tire easily, usually after 200 to 300 m of running. They can jump as far as 6 m, which is advantageous when being chased by slower predators ("Family Moschidae", 2009; Aryal, 2005; Nyambayar, et al., 2008)

The male musk sac is highly sought after by humans, and hunting and trapping have caused declines in Himalayan musk deer populations. Traps kill not only the desired males, but also females and young deer. ("Family Moschidae", 2009; Aryal, 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

As herbivores, Himalayan musk deer facilitate seed dispersal in their environment. Seeds are moved as deer forage and also may cling to their fur. Additionally, Himalayan musk deer are preyed on by leopard, lynx, yellow-throated marten, red fox, grey wolf, wild dogs, and occasionally birds of prey. (Aryal, 2005)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The musk sac of male musk deer is highly sought after by humans. Around 25 g of musk can be extracted from a single musk sac. At market, 1 kg of musk can be worth $45,000 USD, a figure which increases as species populations decrease. Musk is an important component in perfume and is also used in traditional medicinal practices. Additionally, Himalayan musk deer are sought by local people for their fur and meat, which is considered a delicacy. ("Musk deer facing risk of extinction", 2000; Green, 1978; Nyambayar, et al., 2008)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The are no known adverse effects of Himalayan musk deer on humans.

Conservation Status

Himalayan musk deer are listed as endangered on both the IUCN Red List and the US Federal List. CITES lists the small number of Himalayan musk deer that inhabit China in Appendix II and all other Himalayan musk deer in Appendix I.

Himalayan musk deer are threatened by hunting, habitat fragmentation, habitat reduction, and habitat destruction. Because it is difficult to distinguish Himalayan musk deer from similar species such as Moschus chrysogaster, the exact rates of their population declines are debatable. Although many musk deer reside in one of several protected areas, poaching activities continue to increase as musk becomes more valuable. (Timmins and Duckworth, 2008)


Jaclyn Plummer (author), Northern Michigan University, John Bruggink (editor), Northern Michigan University, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


2009. "Family Moschidae" (On-line). Ungulates of the World. Accessed March 15, 2009 at

Wildscreen. 2010. "Himalayan musk deer (Moschus moschiferus moschiferus)" (On-line). ARKive: Images of Life on Earth. Accessed January 18, 2011 at

2009. "Musk Deer" (On-line). Care 4 Nature. Accessed March 15, 2009 at

2000. "Musk deer facing risk of extinction" (On-line). Online Burma/Myanmar Library. Accessed March 15, 2009 at

Aryal, A. 2005. Status and distribution of Himalayan Musk deer ‘Moschus chrysogaster’ in Annapurna Conservation Area of Manang District, Nepal. UK: ITNC. Accessed April 25, 2009 at

Green, M. 1978. Himalayan musk deer (Moschus leucogaster). Pp. 56-64 in Threatened Deer. Oxford: Alden Press. Accessed January 18, 2011 at,M1.

Groves, C., W. Yingxiang, P. Grubb. 1995. Taxonomy of Musk Deer, Genus Moschus (Moschidae, Mammalia). Acia Theriologica Sinica, 15/3: 181-197. Accessed April 25, 2009 at

Nyambayar, B., H. Mix, K. Tsytsulina. 2008. "Moschus moschiferus" (On-line). Accessed March 17, 2009 at

Timmins, R., J. Duckworth. 2008. "Moschus leucogaster" (On-line). Accessed March 20, 2009 at

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed). Johns Hopkins University: Johns Hopkins University Press. Accessed March 17, 2009 at