Muskox (Ovibos Moschatus) – the bearded one (umingmak)
Muskox live in herds of 12 to 24 in the winter and 8 to 20 in the summer. Although they do not migrate, they will range about 50 miles between summer and winter. They have a distinctive defensive behavior: when the herd is threatened, the adults will face outward to form a stationary ring or semicircle to surround the calves.
This amazing stocky, long-haired, hoofed mammal with a slight shoulder hump has a life span of between 12 and 20 years. It is noted for its thick coat and for the strong odor emitted by the males during the seasonal rut, from which its name is derived.
Mature bulls can weigh from 600 to 800 pounds while mature cows are between 400 and 500 pounds. Both sexes have a thick skull and horns used for defense, however the horns of the bulls are larger and heavier. Calves are generally born from April to June and grow to 250 pounds in their first 6 months.In modern times, muskoxen were restricted to the Arctic areas of Northern Canada, Greenland and Alaska. By the late 1800s Muskoxen had been over hunted, leaving populations only in Eastern Greenland and Arctic Canada. Through restoration and conservation efforts they are once again found throughout the Arctic.
In Alaska there are now about 4,300. Both male and female muskox have long, curved horns and a small tail that is often concealed under a thick layer of fur. Their coat, a mix of black, gray and brown, includes long guard hairs that almost reach the ground. The wool, called qiuviut, is highly prized for its softness, length and insulation value.
We saw quite a few muskox during our wonderful visit to Nome, Alaska – some near the town but most out on the tundra visible from the “highway” roads we drove each day while exploring the area. What magnificent creatures.