In Afghanistan—in spite of multiple wars, habitat destruction, and unregulated hunting—one species feared to have gone extinct in the nation has been spotted and may even be staging a comeback: the rare and majestic Bactrian deer. When they were last surveyed in the 1970s, their local numbers were estimated to top out at 120, reports the Smithsonian. In the intervening years, multiple conflicts, deforestation, and what the Smithsonian calls "general lawlessness" culminated in a perfect storm that experts feared might have doomed the ornately-antlered deer. Not so, researchers report in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Deer Specialist Group newsletter.
Conservationists who surveyed the area in 2013 say they are happy to reveal that a "small population exists," though however many remain "urgently need conservation," University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers report. The global population, which reaches across Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, has increased from 400 in the 1960s to 1,900 in 2011 thanks to local conservation efforts. What's more, the deer, long thought to be a sub-species of red deer, may be a distinct species of its own in need of its own categorization and protection, especially as some wealthy locals are rumored to now cage the animals as luxury pets. (The whale's earliest-known ancestor may have been a cat-sized deer.)