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Friday, February 6, 2015

“Vampire Deer” Revisited

Looks can certainly be deceiving. This Asian deer may seem out for blood and “built for the kill” with its long canines. Reality, however, offers a totally different perspective as the animal is largely shy and harmless. Unless you are some leaves of grass, of course.

Because of its looks, this 4-legged creature has been labeled the Christmas “devil deer” and has in fact been branded as the reindeer that Krampus would ride. Krampus, for the uninitiated, is the demonic counterpart of St. Nicholas. And many would agree, as the fangs clearly protruding at the sides of its mouth would make it look like a “vampire” deer. Some naughty creature you got there. But yes, a closer look would reveal otherwise. As the nasty creature every kid may fear is more docile than it looks. And definitely fascinating in its own right.
The Evolution of the “Fanged deer”

The term “Fanged deer” does not refer to one specie of deer rather it is a loose term that applies to a slew of male deers with visible canines. This includes the muntjac, tufted deer, water deer and the musk deer.

But tusks and horns commonly identified with the dark side may not be an unfamiliar feature with deers. As Zoo Atlanta's carnivore keeper, Jen Webb divulged, "The ancestors of all deer were small and had tusks and antlers." Currently, she is the keeper of the American Zoological Association’s muntjak studbook, making her "responsible for the pedigree, geneology, and geographic history of the species' population” in her locality.

Further, Webb explained that in the process of evolution, taller deer species "grew larger antlers and lost the tusks, while smaller deer retained the tusks but kept small antlers."

Over time, four distinct species bore these “creepy” features.

These are:

Muntjacs include 12 species of deer endemic to the South Asian region. What would strike you most about them is that they have both antlers and tusks handed down from one generation to the next thru their ancestors.

If you expect them to be feisty, then you could never be wrong. These creatures – though fanged – are of diminutive size. Added to that they are essentially shy and would flee in such a short notice.

Aside from differences in habitat, one specie could vary in appearance and behavior to the other.Classic example: the Reeve’s muntjac found in Zoo Atlanta. Also nicknamed the Chinese muntjac, the animal can easily be identified with its sharp, abbreviated calls giving it the moniker “barking deer.”

Musk Deer
This one caught the headlines early last year as one Kashmir musk deer was seen in Afghanistan, a full 60 years after last visual as reported in the October issue of the Oryx journal.

According to Wildlife Conservation Society's Peter Zahler, co-author of the Oryx study, "Musk deer are less well known than other deer because they are secretive, shy, not terribly common, and are found primarily across temperate Asia, from the Himalayas of Afghanistan into southern Russia, which is generally a region of the world that is not well known to the public."

Now you may be wondering if the Musk Deer had anything to do with the Musk scent. Fact is, all but one of the seven species of this shy animal have been listed as endangered by none other than the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The poor animal has been the subject of many hunts for its musk gland, which according to the  Wildlife Conservation Society is "considered more valuable by weight than gold, fetching as much as $45,000/kilo on the black market.”

Knowing that would make you wish this animal had a temper of a tiger.

Tufted Deer
The animal has been so named because of its very small antlers largely hidden from view by its tufts of hair – reason for its name. Yet you can’t mistake its prominent tusks. A specie called Elaphoduscephalophus is endemic to China and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

For deers, tusks serve a better function than antlers especially when these animals live in thick vegetation as Zahler explains: They're less likely to get tangled in brush than antlers are.

And these tusks may serve as an asset as male fanged deer utilize them as weapons to fight rivals. Arnold Cooke, one independent deer researcher from U.K., shares the save point of view saying, "it may be that visible tusk size is an asset that will cause a rival to back down and avoid a fight."

Chinese Water Deer
Though originally endemic to China and Korea, the Chinese water deermaybe a more familiar animal in the U.K. as wild populations have sprouted after the 20th century saw releases and escapes from zoos and parks, the British Deer Society affirms.

But don’t get too comfy as the breed is the rarest of the Britain’s six deer species. Primarily grazers, Cooke shares “the tusks are, to a degree, hinged in their sockets, and can be held back slightly when the animal is grazing."

What is striking is the animal has got "ears large and rounded, giving a 'teddy bear' like appearance," the British Deer Society declares.

Now, will all the shyness surrounding these so-called “devil deers” it seems Krampus may have to do some more searching to complete his line-up of menacing reindeers.

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