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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Musk Ox

We have been traveling a very famous road. It is called the Haul Road. The Haul Road was built so that trucks could take oil rig equipment to Prudhoe Bay. The road is 416 miles long. In the winter, it is an ice road. We drove it during rain, so it was a mud road!

While we were on the Haul Road, we saw a beautiful sight. We saw a herd of musk ox.

Musk ox were either killed by predator or humans from the Arctic Circle. We learned from the University of Alaska Large Animal Research Center that these large, stocky mammals are more like goats than oxen. Their name comes from their build and size. They are not very tall. They stand less than four foot at the shoulders. Most of them weigh over 800 pounds.

Musk ox are made perfectly to fit the Arctic tundra. They like icy coastland rather than deep snow and forest. They are covered with long, shaggy fur and qiveut, a downy layer that insulates them from the harsh Arctic wind.

Baby musk ox are born with an entire coat of qiveut which keeps them warm in temperatures as low as -30 degrees. Babies are seldom seen because they often hide under their mother's bellies for further protection and warmth.

Musk ox are herd animals. They fiercely protect their young. If a predator approaches, the herd circles around the calves, standing shoulder to shoulder with their rumps toward the center. Females have sharp tips on their horns to gouge predators. The bulls have thick horn "bosses" or armour on their foreheads and can either ram or gore predators.

In 1935, Greenland provided a seed herd to reintroduce musk ox to Alaska. Thirty-four musk ox were brought to Nunivak Island. The herd grew to 700, and several groups were relocated to similar habitat.

Only 2,300 musk ox live in Alaska. The herd we saw outside of Deadhorse numbered around 16 members. How grateful we are to have seen them!

For more information about musk ox, visit http://www.arkive.org/muskox/ovibos-moschatus/info.html?displayMode=factsheet

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