Muskox herd, on the defence

In most valleys there is muskox herd consisting of a big dominant bull, 5-8 mature females, 2-3 calfs and 4-5 adolescents, male and female. The number of mature females seem to depends on the bulls managerial talents, the bigger the bull, the more females.

Approaching a muskox herd is not without risk. The herd forms a half-circle and the dominant bull stands in front. You can approach them up to 200 meters, if they let you as they usually already run off at a larger distance. When you get closer, the dominant bull starts snoring and digging its hooves  into the ground you better leave if you do not want to be chased off or even thrown in the air by its massive head and horns.

Muskox bull.

Waking up in the morning with a muskox herd [1] of 10-14 animals lying close to our tent is a unique experience. At night the herd  may decide to seek shelter in one of their favorite, protected valleys and happens to settled close to our tents. Our preferences are similar, we always try to camp in a sheltered, grassy flat spot and preferably close to a pond.

You can take your time to observe them through a tent opening as they have poor eye-sight. As soon as you get out of the tent, you loose  the camouflage of the tents. They will spot you and react in a panic as we have the size and movements of wolves in ambush. They quickly run off at an impressive speed, preferably up-hill, just like rabbits.

The stampede led by the dominant bull lasts only a few minutes and they regroup into a defensive half-circle higher up.

Lonely bulls [1] can be approached closer, up to 50 meters.

Fred, the lonely muskox bull on Whitsunday Bay, Eastern Axel Heiberg Island.

Closer they will first look at you, but at 20 m they will also starts snoring and digging their hooves  into the ground. Time to quickly take the closest picture and leave unless you are a Canadian 'Jackass' and want a picture being chased like Steve [1].

Skeletons of muskox are common [1]. The tough skull and horns preserves best [1].  A small heap in a sheltered valley with exceptionally high and healthy grass tends to have a muskox skull in it core which serves as a fertilizer.

Arctic wolves chasing muskox. Photograph by Jim Brandenbug.