A Nome Mammal

Perhaps the most sought-after mammal around Nome, AK is the Muskoxen. Nome may be the only place in the USA where you can fly in, rent a car, and go see a wild Muskox. It is even possible to see them in town and around the airport.

Muskoxen can be found grazing within the city limits of Nome. This is one of a larger group that was foraging in an old gold quarry in town. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/320. ©Stanley Buman.

Muskoxen are one of the few large land mammals in North America that could wear tee-shirts stating, “I survived the Ice-age: Mastodons and Woolly Mammoths are wimps”.

Of course, one of their survival traits may have led to their demise. By the 1920’s Muskox were extirpated from the state of Alaska. One reason was likely due to humans killing them for their wool; one of the warmest wools for its weight. This wool that allows a Muskox to withstand cold dark winters on the Arctic Tundra was sought after to make coats, hats, scarves, and other clothing items.

The coat of a Muskox consists of a long coarse outer layer, and a short fine under-hair (wool). Here, the lighter colored under-hair is being shed by the cow. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/500. ©Stanley Buman.

Muskox also provided a food source for both man and sled dogs, further compromising their population.

In 1930, Alaska wildlife officials imported 34 Muskoxen from East Greenland and penned them at Fairbanks. After sustaining a few losses, they were relocated to a large island in the Bering Sea, free from bears. The herd expanded, allowing for animals to be translocated to the mainland. By year 2000, it was estimated that 4,000 oxen existed in Alaska.

The Muskox bull has larger horns than the cows, especially at the base. Like Bighorn Sheep, the oxen bulls ram heads during the rutting season to determine dominance. Sony a1 + 600mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 840mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/1250. ©Stanley Buman.

The Muskox may not rank high on the list of beautiful or majestic mammals, but their multiple adaptations to withstand harsh winters must be admired. Fortunately, concerned wildlife managers noted their dwindling populations, took action, and were successful in their recovery.

10 thoughts on “A Nome Mammal”

    1. Very true Don. There are also domestic herds scattered across Alaska. But to see them in the wild (not fenced in) means traveling to a more remote location.

  1. I had no idea muskox were at one time totally eliminated in Alaska. Bringing them back is just another success story for wildlife biologists.

    1. They had also disappeared from Europe and Asia, leaving them only in Greenland and Arctic Canada. We are lucky that someone had some foresight to protect this species from extinction.

  2. Stan! These pics are amazing! They look so interesting/ancient. Pretty cool they still live among us.

  3. I’ve never heard of a muskox! Very nice pictures. Alaska is on my bucket list! Thanks for sharing

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