KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- After an absence of more than 60 years, a handful of rare fanged deer have been spotted in Afghanistan -- just in time for Halloween. The sharp-toothed mammal known as the Kashmir musk deer hadn't been seen in the country since 1948.
But as researchers recently reported in the journal Oryx, a team of field observers with the Wildlife Conservation Society spotted several of the rare specimens -- on multiple occasions -- in the remote alpine fields of northeast Afghanistan, meadows lush with juniper and rhododendron and accented with forested slopes and rugged rock outcrops.
"Musk Deer are one of Afghanistan's living treasures," lead author of the study, Peter Zahler, said in a recent press release. "This rare species, along with better known wildlife such as snow leopards, are the natural heritage of this struggling nation."
The sharp white enamel that protrudes from the musk deer's mouth are more tusks than they are fangs -- not used to kill or eat prey, but to impress females and compete with other males during rutting season.
The Kashmir musk deer, one of seven similar species in Asia, is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Dracula-like deer's largest threats are habitat loss and poaching. The species' scent glands are highly prized for their use in perfume, incense, and medicine -- selling for $20,000 per pound on the black market.
"We hope that conditions will stabilize soon to allow WCS and local partners to better evaluate conservation needs of this species," Zahler added.
Without improved conservation infrastructure and wildlife initiatives, researchers say the deer is likely to disappear from Afghanistan's Nuristan Province and elsewhere in India and Pakistan.