Muskox and its conservation status

The current world population of muskoxen is estimated at between 80,000 and 125,000, with an estimated 47,000 living on Banks Island

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Muskox and its conservation status

Muskoxen live in arctic areas of Canada, Greenland and Alaska. The original population of Alaska died out due to overhunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but musk oxen were soon reintroduced there. The species has also been reintroduced in Northern Europe (in the mountains between Norway and Sweden) and in Russia.

In the past, the musk ox was at risk of extinction: however, protective measures have made it possible to save the species. Currently, the overall population is increasing (especially in areas where the musk ox has been recently introduced) and is estimated at between 65,000 and 85,000 head.

Currently regulated hunting is allowed, so hunting is sustainable. In Greenland there are no major threats, although populations are often small in size and scattered, which makes them vulnerable to local fluctuations in climate.

Most populations are within national parks, where they are protected from hunting. Management in the late 1900s was mostly conservative hunting quotas to foster recovery and recolonization from the historic declines. The current world population of muskoxen is estimated at between 80,000 and 125,000, with an estimated 47,000 living on Banks Island.

The herds are usually composed of 10-20 individuals, although in some cases up to 100 heads can be reached. During the winter, the herds consist of adults of both se*es and juveniles. In the mating season (around mid-August), the males engage in fights: the dominant specimen will then end up driving away the other adult males of the group.

Females reach sexual maturity at 2 years of age, males at 5. Musk oxen are social animals, and are famous for the typical circular disposition they assume when they feel threatened. This arrangement (small in the center, wall of horns pointing outwards) is often sufficient to repel the attack of arctic wolves, but is completely ineffective if the attack is made by a polar bear.

During the summer, musk oxen live in wetlands, especially valleys where rivers flow. In winter they venture to higher elevations in order to avoid deeper snow. They feed on grass, roots, sedges and other terrestrial plants, digging in the snow in search of food.