FOUND! THE BACTRIAN DEER
Human conflicts can have disastrous consequences for wildlife. Territorial ranges are divided, habitats degraded, migratory paths disrupted—and biologists can’t ascertain which species require protection. A team of wildlife ecologists led by Zulmai Moheb, a UMass Amherst PhD student in environmental conservation, set out to see what had become of Bactrian deer in the Panj River region in northern Afghanistan.
Bactrian deer, native to central Asia, prefer a rare habitat known as a tugai forest: shrubby thickets of tamarisk, willows, grasses, and tall reeds that grow along river valleys and flood plains. Due to loss of this fragile habitat, as well as unregulated hunting and the exotic pet trade, the global population of Bactrian deer had dropped to about 120 in the 1970s, when it was last measured.
Decades of Soviet occupation and devastating civil war had prevented field scientists from checking in on the animals, so their survival was a mystery. They were feared extinct.
Through a field survey that involved direct observation, samples of scat, and accounts by locals, Moheb and his colleagues confirmed that the deer had rallied: they are indeed present in Afghanistan in a stable number, yet critically in need of protection.
The team’s recently published research was supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.