Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Massive-Looking Muskox

Muskoxen are wild arctic mammals indigenous to northern Canada and Greenland, with introduced populations living in Alaska and Siberia. Despite their common name and appearance, muskoxen are more closely-related to sheep and goats than to cattle, and are the only members of the Ovibos genus.

On average, muskoxen measure five to eight feet in length and weigh 400-900lbs; however, their thick, double-layer coats can make them appear to be much larger animals. This coat is necessary for surviving arctic temperatures and may nearly reach the ground on some animals. Muskoxen also have large heads in proportion to their bodies and feature large, curved horns on both sexes.

Muskoxen are herd animals that live within a hierarchy. Bulls will often challenge one another for dominance, especially during mating season, by charging or intimidating one another. In some cases the losers of these contests will leave the herd to live with other bachelors or on their own. However, if threatened by a predator they are usually allowed to return for safety. Muskoxen must contend with predation by grizzly bears, polar bears, and arctic wolves. If the heard is threatened they will take up a defensive posture with the strongest members forming a ring around the herd’s calves.

The muskox has long been a food source for native peoples living in its range. However, increased colonization in these areas often resulted in overhunting, wiping out muskox populations in many areas by the early twentieth century. Since then, muskoxen have been reintroduced to many areas such as Alaska and Siberia, and are protected in most others. The estimated current muskox population has climbed to 80,000-125,000, with nearly half living on Canada’s Banks Island.

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