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Muskox

Ovibos Moschatus - Umingmak


Population Status

Distribution:

Muskox live on the Yukon and Alaska North Slope all year round. Lone bull muskox and small bull groups began to appear on the Yukon North Slope very soon after being transplanted to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1969, but it was not until the mid 1980s that repeated sightings of cow muskox were reported on the Yukon side. In 1987, observations of mixed-sex groups with young calves indicated that a breeding population of muskox was being established in the Yukon. Muskoxen continued to spread out and are now found in the NWT west of the Mackenzie River as well as in the Yukon south towards Old Crow. About 100 muskoxen are also living in the Richardson Mountains.

Population size:

In 2006, an extensive multi-agency survey of muskox habitat between the Babbage River in the Yukon and Fish Creek in northern Alaska counted almost 300 muskoxen. With the addition of about 100 animals living in the Richardson Mountains and a few small groups of muskoxen seen south of the Brooks Range Mountains, the total North Slope population is estimated to be about 400 animals.

Population trend:

The current population of muskox has grown from a group of 51, introduced to Barter Island, off the northeast coast of Alaska, in 1969. The population rose steadily after this population of muskox was introduced, peaking in the mid-1990s at more than 700 animals. Since then, total numbers have declined. Dispersal has affected distribution of numbers throughout the range.

Unique or special characteristics:

  • Muskox were historically found in this area from the end of the last ice age until they disappeared between 1858 and 1865, possibly due to changes in weather conditions and human hunting.
  • The soft brownish underhair of the muskox is called qiviut. The qiviut of the muskox is perhaps the finest wool in the world. It is stronger than sheep's wool and eight times warmer. It is finer and softer than cashmere. Qiviut is spun into wool and used to make warm woollen clothing, hats, scarves and mitts. It is very valuable. Commercially spun qiviut currently sells for about $55 per 25 grams, and a qiviut scarf can sell for over $300.

Habitat Features

Although muskox are known to expand their range, they are not migratory animals like caribou. Instead they tend to remain in a home range with areas of well-vegetated tundra, where wind, drainage and snow conditions provide reasonable growing conditions. Muskox make seasonal movements between feeding areas in their home range. In the summer, they like moist habitats such as river valleys, lake shores and meadows. Muskox often congregate in river valleys where willow grows abundantly. In the winter, they prefer areas such as hilltops, slopes and plateaus where the Arctic winds scour away surface snow, exposing vegetation. In the Yukon, most muskox can be found in summer along the river corridors of the Malcolm, Firth and Babbage rivers. In the winter, they can be found on slopes and ridges in the foothills of the British Mountains, where strong winds blow away the snow.

Harvest

The Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope) has prepared a draft Canadian North Slope Muskox Co-Management Plan. Once finalized, the Plan will provide the guidelines for the Council to recommend a quota for the harvest of muskox in the Yukon. Muskox hunts in northeastern Alaska have been suspended until population numbers recover. 

Muskox have recently been removed from the Government of Yukon’s list of specially protected wildlife but are not open to hunting. However, an unreported small number of muskox are harvested out of Aklavik every year.

Inuvialuit:

Under the IFA, the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee has the authority to develop bylaws that apply to the Inuvialuit harvest of specific species, should such bylaws be needed. NWT regulations must then reflect these bylaws. Bylaws may also be reflected in Ivvavik National Park regulations and Yukon wildlife regulations. Currently, Inuvialuit cannot harvest muskox on the Yukon North Slope.

Harvesting Rights
AreaInuvialuitOthers
Ivvavik National Park Exclusive None Permitted
Herschel Island Territorial Park Exclusive None Permitted
East of the Babbage River Preferential None permitted
Adjoining NWT Exclusive None permitted

Eco-tourism

Viewing of muskox is an important attraction to tourists, photographers, researchers, and students of wildlife. In the Yukon and Alaska, muskox sightings are enjoyed by Firth River rafting parties and visitors to Ivvavik National Park, Herschel Island Territorial Park, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and along the Dalton Highway. Muskoxen are valued as unique wildlife species with an ancient history in the Arctic ecosystem.

Threats

Severe winters (icing conditions, deep snow and prolonged snow seasons), access to winter habitat, rates of predation and possibly disease are factors that likely impact the size of the population and its distribution.

Species at Risk Status

Yukon:
none - Muskox have recently been removed from the Yukon Government’s list of specially protected wildlife<
COSEWIC:
none
CITES:
none

Research and Monitoring

Population monitoring:

The population has been monitored in Alaska and Canada since its introduction. Surveys were conducted twice a year as part of a six-year study, 1999 to 2005 (see below). There is also an ongoing program to record species observed on Herschel Island.

Research:

From 1999 to 2005, the Yukon Government and Parks Canada conducted a program to study muskox on the Yukon North Slope. Researchers used aerial surveys, composition counts, satellite tracking, samples from captured muskox and community observations to learn more about these animals. The study was designed to provide information on the size of the muskox population, the numbers of males and females and their ages, as well as information about habitat use and how much the muskox move around.

In July 2005, biologists completed their final survey and composition count of this six-year study. A total of 110 muskoxen were counted in the survey area over four days. Of this total, 12 were calves and 10 were classified as being one year old. Herd productivity (the number of calves born in a year) was estimated at 29 calves per 100 females. This level was the second lowest of the eight productivity estimates made since 1993. Information on the studies can be found at http://www.taiga.net/wmac/species/muskox/index.html

Deficiencies:

Information on thepopulation resident in the Richardson Mountains.

Management

Management Jurisdictions
AreaLegislationEnforcementAgreements
Ivvavik National Park IFA Parks Canada Draft Canadian Muskox Management Plan, Alaskan North Slope Muskox Management Plan
Hershel Island Territorial Park Yukon Wildlife Act YTG
East of the Babbage River National Parks Act YTG
Adjoining NWT NWT Wildlife Act GNWT

To meet conservation goals of the IFA, the co-management bodies are mandated to determine and recommend (to Yukon Government, GNWT and Parks Canada) a total allowable harvest and/ or promote research, if and when required. The North Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Plan includes a chapter on the management of muskox in the Vuntut Gwitchin Traditional Territory which lies to the south of the Inuvialuit Settlement region in the Yukon. http://www.yfwmb.yk.ca/comanagement/ Management and harvest plans have been developed for a portion of the population resident on the Alaskan North Slope.

Community-based Information

Community-based information on muskox may be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. http://www.taiga.net/coop/community/index.html. The following comments are taken from the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op Community Reports for Aklavik – Inuvialuit for the years indicated:

2005 - 2006

Some people have seen some muskox but not as much as what we saw in the years back.

2004 - 2005

We hardly see any muskox anymore. There are a few, but not like a few years back. They probably moved to a new area. People reported seeing them near the Babbage River and near Stokes Point.

2003 - 2004

There are some muskoxen in the hills and some people say there are a lot.

Related Literature and Information Sources

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. 2007 Community Monitoring Report 2005 -2006.

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. 2006 Community Monitoring Report 2004 – 2005.

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op. 2005 Community Monitoring Report 2003 – 2004.

Cooley, D. 2005. Personal communication, Government of Yukon, Department of Environment.

Gordon, Danny C. Personal communication, Elder, Aklavik, NWT.

Kutz, S., E. Garde, A. Veitch, J. Nagy, F. Ghandi, and L. Polley. 2004. Muskox lungworm (umingmakstrongylus pallikuukensis) does not establish in experimentally exposed thinhorn sheep (Ovis dalli) Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 40(2), 197-204.

Parks Canada. 2003. Annual Report of Research and Monitoring in National Parks of the Western Arctic 2003. http://www.pc.gc.ca/docs/v-g/rs-rm2003/sec1/index_E.asp

Reynolds, P. E. 1998. Dynamics and range expansion of a re-established muskox population. Journal of Wildlife Management 62:734-744.

Reynolds, P. E., H. V. Reynolds, and R. T. Shideler. 2002. Predation and multiple kills of muskoxen by grizzly bears. Ursus 13:79-84.

Reynolds, P. E., K. J. Wilson, and D. R. Klein. 2002. Muskoxen. Pages 54-64 in D.C. Douglas, P.E. Reynolds, and E.B. Rhode, editors. Arctic Refuge coastal plain terrestrial wildlife research summaries. U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR-2002-0001. http://www.absc.usgs.gov/1002/

Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope). 2001. Workshop report: Muskox Management workshop. Aklavik, NWT.

Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope). 2006. Research on the Yukon North Slope Funded Through the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA)

1985-2005. http://www.wmacns.ca/pdfs/166_IFA%20Funded%20Wildlife%20Research.pdf

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