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Musk Deer Under Threat In Russia and Mongolia

New WWF Report Details Continued Use in Traditional Medicine Despite Conservation Laws Prohibiting Trade

WASHINGTON - Musk deer populations in parts of Russia and Mongolia are in rapid decline as a result of poaching for musk pods, according to a new report released today by TRAFFIC, the world's leading wildlife trade monitoring network, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Highly valued for its use in traditional medicine, musk derives from male musk deer and is one of the most expensive natural products with a retail value three to five times higher than that of gold.

The new report by TRAFFIC Europe, No License To Kill: The Population and Harvest of Musk Deer and Trade in Musk in the Russian Federation and Mongolia finds that in Russia, an estimated 80 percent of all musk deer killed appear to have been poached and the illegal trade in musk is thought to have been five times that of the legal trade in the early 2000s. In neighboring Mongolia, despite the fact that hunting of musk deer has been illegal since 1953, a minimum average of 2000 male musk deer have been poached annually between 1996 and 2001.

The bulk of the musk obtained illegally is destined for China and other parts of East Asia, most of it for use in traditional medicine. The majority of the medicinal products containing musk and sold in the U.S. are produced in China.

According to recent research by TRAFFIC North America, musk products are increasingly available in major trade centers in the United States. For example, TRAFFIC found that in 2003, musk products were available in all of New York City's traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) stores and 50 percent of San Francisco's TCM shops, figures which indicate a marked increase in the availability and use of musk products over previous years. "Our findings indicate that illegal import and sale of musk products remains a serious problem in the United States," said Leigh Henry, program officer for TRAFFIC, a joint program of World Wildlife Fund and IUCN-The World Conservation Union. "We need to improve regulation and bolster enforcement or illegal and unsustainable trade will continue to threaten the survival of the world's remaining musk deer."

TRAFFIC and WWF are urging Russia and Mongolia to strengthen their enforcement efforts significantly, calling on China to co-operate closely with Russia and Mongolia in addressing any illegal cross-border trade.

Musk secreted from the scent pods of male musk deer has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicines in Asia. Musk has been used in Chinese medicines for centuries to treat pain, swelling, convulsions and delirium.

TRAFFIC and WWF protect endangered species in the wild with anti-poaching patrols, support to law enforcement and monitoring of international trade.