Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) 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.
Like other ruminants, muskoxen feed by grazing on a variety of grass, arctic plants and lichen. They avoid deep snow if possible, as grazing in such conditions expends more energy, and will often move uphill from their summer lowland homes to avoid it in the winter.
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.
Most muskox calves are born in March or April after an 8-9 month gestation. They are expected to be able to walk and keep up with the herd within a few hours of birth, and will maintain a bond with their mothers for roughly the first two years of life. Most muskoxen live 12-20 years in the wild.
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.
Muskoxen are known by native Alaskans ans “Oomingmak”, which means “The Bearded One”
Though most are wild, there are many small herds of domesticated muskox that are bred for their meat, milk, and highly-prized wool, which is called qiviut.
The Muskox Farm
Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-Operative