Extirpation & Reintroduction

 
Two adult and two young muskoxen walking in the tundra
Four muskoxen walking in the tundra

NPS Photo/Emily Mesner

Extirpation

Having survived the major environmental changes at the end of the Pleistocene, muskoxen were to face an even more severe challenge. Evidence from the high Arctic suggests that muskoxen can survive at least limited hunting pressures from humans for a long time. However, ever increasing hunting pressure from a growing human population seems to be more than the animals can cope with. Even their defensive circle, which gives them such good protection from wolves, their major predator, serves only to make them more vulnerable to humans. As European exploration and settlement of the Arctic increased, muskoxen were threatened with extinction from over hunting.

By about 1900, muskox had disappeared from the Alaskan landscape. The only remaining, wild populations existed in Greenland and Canada.

 
Dark brown muskox cow checks on her young standing in front of her
Muskox cow and young

NPS Photo

Reintroduction

In 1930, the United Stated Congress allocated funds to reintroduce muskox to Alaska. The goal was to domesticate the animals and find profitable ways to use them.

Thirty-four muskox were captured in Greenland, transported by boat to Norway then New York. After a month of quarantine, they traveled by train and boat to Fairbanks.

In 1935 and 1936, this group was eventually moved to Nunivak Island, a large island in the Bering Sea. There the herd thrived over the following decades. From the 1960’s through the 1980’s, animals from this herd were reintroduced into other portions of Alaska. This includes the Seward Peninsula, Nelson Island, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Cape Thompson (near Cape Krusenstern). Some muskox were even transplanted to Russia.

Currently, the muskox population in the Cape Thompson core survey area, which includes Cape Krusenstern, is estimated at 200 animals.

 

Last updated: November 5, 2018

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