Musk ox

Ovibos moschatus

TAXONOMY

Bos moschatus (Zimmerman, 1780), between Seal and Churchill Rivers, Manitoba, Canada.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Boeuf musqué; German: Moschusochs; Spanish: Buey amizclero.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Massive build with relatively short legs and a slight hump. Height is 47-59 in (120-150 cm). Maximum weight can reach 836 lb (380 kg). Coat is dark brown and coarse, with a dense, soft underfur. Both sexes have horns that are broad and curve down and out.

DISTRIBUTION

Formerly occurred through northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland into northern Eurasia. May have survived in northern Siberia until 3,000-4,000 years ago. Exterminated from Alaska and parts of Canada during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but conservation measures and reintroductions have restored them to part of this original range. Also introduced to west Greenland, Wrangel Island, and the Taimyr Peninsula in Arctic Russia, and southern Norway.

HABITAT

Tundra. Prefers moist habitats such as lakesides, valley bottoms, and wet meadows in summer. In winter, move to open slopes, ridges, and summits where winds prevent accumulation of snow.

BEHAVIOR

Gregarious, living in herds of up to 100, though usually 10-20. When threatened, they bunch together in a tight circle, facing outward, with calves in the center.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

In summer, they feed on grasses and sedges and, in winter, browse on shrubs and dwarf willow.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. The rut takes place June-September. Males display and fight with head-on clash. Dominant bulls drive other males away. Young are born mid-April-mid-June.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. Populations now stable or increasing. Estimated to number approximately 120,000 in 1997.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Hunted for its meat and hide. Inuit people used its horns to make bows and its light, warm underfur qiviut for clothing. ♦

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