Gentle Giants


Musk Ox, North Slope, Alaska

One of my hopes coming up here was to see musk ox. Several groups of this hardy animal had been seen near the Dalton Highway, but they remained elusive, when I traveled up north. Then, one drizzly afternoon, there they were, walking next to the road. Smaller than expected, moving with poise despite hordes of mosquitoes swarming around their heads. What does that eye tell you?

Inupiaqs call this “the animal with skin like a beard”. Musk ox live in the open tundra, where there is no place to hide, not from weather nor from predators. Apparently they have changed little since the last ice age and are well-adapted to the harsh living conditions of the arctic.

Musk oxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than bison and buffalo, if you ask a taxonomists. They disappeared from Alaska in the 1800’s, due to over-hunting, what else is new? In 1930, 34 musk oxen were captured in Greenland and reintroduced to Nunivak Island. From there musk oxen were transplanted to former habitats. Today, there are more than 3000 musk oxen found in Alaska. Considering the size of the state it is still a rare event to spot one of these gregarious animals.

Some folks call this another success story in wildlife conservation. I call it another sad example of the devastating effect of inconsiderate human behavior that lead to the extinction in the first place.


7 thoughts on “Gentle Giants

  1. Pierre P. says:

    Such a great photo, and a very nice post to read ! To think in France, some 500 years ago, there were still elks, primitive oxen, bears, wolves… A bit like the moas and the giant “Haast” eagles you could find in New-Zealand before humans arrived. We’re living in incredible yet sometimes pretty sad times.

    • Yes, to think they existed like this 10,000 years ago, then “modern” civilization arrived and wiped them out in less than 50 years, very much like the bison. I miss this time of wildlife abundance. Even places like the arctic, which is considered one of the few wild places is pale in comparison to what it was.
      Thanks for reading.
      By the way, I thought of a more appreciative name for your artistic “puddle” photography. How about “urban reflections”? Your images are great. You found a niche. You live in the perfect environment for that. You have the eye and you are willing to get up at crack o’dawn for the perfect light.

      • Pierre P. says:

        The problem I guess is that if not even one sixth of humanity has been able to damage the world so much, imagine what will happen when the other sixths will arrive…

        And thanks for the idea. Yep, it’s better than “Puddle photography”, I find 🙂 It’s quite funny to chase for them in the city, though it may narrow my creativity, since I now only look for this kind of photos. But so far, it’s been nice to build all a series out of this idea.

  2. Gorgeous photo. I’m so happy you were able to see them while there. The only place I’ve seen one was at the Alaska Conservation Center near Girdwood (and Portage). It was a magnificent animal. I think their babies are so super cute.

  3. Great shot and I’m so pleased to see these elusive animals on your blog.
    Despite the increase in numbers, still a sad story to read of these ancient beasts being wiped out at one stage.

  4. Great photo.
    We shouldn’t need to reintroduce animals into their native habitat but sadly that is what has to be done. I’m glad that it is done. I’m glad that there are people that take the time and energy to make sure the species survives.

  5. Doreen Cooper says:

    I remember seeing you working on this image on your computer at the VC, wondered what you were going to do with it, it looks great here. One of my favorite memories of time spent up there will be my views of muskox, they are iconic. Can they survive the coming challenges? I try to remain optimistic for I do not want to see them leave our world.

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