Li Xue-You, PhD Candidate,
Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Science
Paul J. Buzzard,
Field Biologist,

China Exploration and Research Society (CERS)
August 2010

The expense and effort required to estimate true population size is usually prohibitive, but a number of methodologies have been developed to estimate population size and/or relative abundance in wild ungulates. The purpose of this study was to apply two methodologies: camera trap and sign survey on the musk deer population study, to compare the two methodologies for musk deer study, to obtain a better understanding of the distribution and habitat preference of musk deer at Langdu, and evaluate the suitability of the two methodologies for musk deer survey.

Nine transects totaling 20.1 km in length were surveyed within forest, grassland and flowstone habitats. A total of 5 camera traps were set. Results showed signs of the animal in the study site were significantly variable between species. It might be a practical measure using sign survey for musk deer distribution study. But it was difficult to estimate the population density for the quantitative relationship between the indirect index and the number of musk deer it represents in a certain period was difficult to establish in the field. Study revealed that there was only one species of musk deer – the Alpine musk deer (Moschus sifanicus) in the study area. Results from the sign survey showed the Alpine musk deer were rare in the study area and have an aggregated distribution. The pattern of distribution appeared to be affected by human disturbance. The defecation sites of the Alpine musk deer often overlapped with Tufted Deer (Elaphodus cephalophus). It might be the results of coevolution and adaptability in a limited habitat. Results also showed the Alpine musk deer preferred areas from 4180 to 4520 m in altitude. And the preferred habitat type was rhododendron forest, with a gradual decrease in preference for rock.

Due to some sudden agency, the pilot study only set up 23 camera days and didn’t capture any photos of wildlife. The camera days were too short to capture the photo of the animals for the home range of the musk deer was large. It was grazing season during our study, musk deer suffered the most human disturbance in this season and they might change their course and defecation place which made more difficult to get their photos. Additionally, the camera traps were checked every day which might disturb the animal. How to hide the cameras in a long period in the study site avoiding stolen by hunters or herders is a challenge for using camera traps. The cameras would be camouflaged with bark of the trees in the future study. Also it is necessary to conduct biodiversity awareness promotion for local people. Then the cameras could be set up in the forest safely and do not need to cheek every day. It might be increase the chance to capture the photos of the animal. Although we didn’t get any photos of the animals, might be a promising method for estimating the density of the musk deer by capture and recapture the photos of the animals.

Hunting and over grazing were the most serious threat to musk deer in the study area. Local minority especially Lisu and Tibetan who have no religion had the custom to hound. Along our transects, 23 traps made by steel cable were found. This was ruinously destructive for wildlife. Musk deer would be extinct if this kind of hunting couldn’t be forbidden.

Download the full PDF survey report.