Saturday, August 13, 2016

Musk Ox

I've always wanted to see a musk ox. Musk ox lived 90,000 years ago during the ice age at the same time as woolly mammoths and mastodons. In the 1800s they disappeared from Alaska and Yukon and until recently were only found in Greenland, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut (a relatively recent territory added to Canada). During the 20th Century they were introduced back into Alaska, Northern Yukon, other parts of Canada, and even Norway, Sweden and Russia. They are only wild in Alaska and Yukon, however, much further north than we were traveling on our trip. But I did find a Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska that is trying to domesticate them, and two wildlife preserves, one south of Anchorage and one in Yukon, that have them in natural enclosures and made plans to visit these places.  
The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer has about 90 musk ox.

There is something very cool looking about musk ox. The one thing I was not happy to see is that the farm cuts the tips of the horns to make them less dangerous. They aren't quite as cool looking with the blunted horns. 

A skull showing the blunted end of one of the horns. 
A mother and several youngsters in one of the enclosures. 
This youngster is tagged and still has his full horns, such as they are. 
Two more youngsters.
Although the name and appearance indicate otherwise, the closest relative to the musk ox is not the oxen, but sheep and goats. Both males and females have long curved horns and wool, called qiviut, which is highly prized for its insulation value. The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer harvests the qiviut and sells it commercially.
This mother and child were at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center south of Anchorage near Turnagain Arm. Here mother retains her full horns - cool.
Two teenagers, not youngsters, but not fully developed adults.
The best place to see the musk ox was the Yukon Wildlife Preserve outside Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. There they live in a huge enclosure.

From behind you can see that these guys are built to withstand cold. 
You can see that if they got feisty, they could cause some damage.

I would love to see them in the wild one day, in a circle protecting their young from wolves. Wonderful creatures. A thrill to get to see them, even in a captive environment. 


  1. Very cool beasts. However, I was shocked at the price of a skein of musk ox wool. One loosely looped skein cost over $100 in one place I looked at it. I never did check the price of the finished items--scarves and hats, mostly. I'm sure they were pricey.

  2. Oh my, they have impressive amounts of hairiness!