Muskoxen have outlived wooly mammoths and sabertooth tigers. Efforts to repopulate the Arctic bring hope the prehistoric beasts can survive our latest warm spell. Muskoxen have populated the planet for at least 2.5 million years, crossing the Bering Strait land bridge into North America 2 million years ago.
Other than reindeer, they are the only arctic megafauna surviving from the Ice Ages. The wooly mammoths, sabertooth tigers and mastadons the muskox used to roam the frozen tundra with were not so lucky. They disappeared around 10,000 years ago as the earth began to warm and the human population began to boom. The muskox almost joined them in the late 1800s, but efforts to repopulate Alaska, Russia and Scandinavia have provided hope they could survive the current warm period Earth has been experiencing for about 12,000 years. There are currently about 170,000 muskoxen in the world, up from about 135,000 in 2008.
Populations in some parts of the world are on the rise. For example, the 30 muskoxen that were introduced to Alaska in the 1930s have increased to over 5000 today. But they are declining in Canada and Greenland, where the largest populations once existed. In Banks Island, Canada, their population has dropped from 70,000 in the 1990s to 14,000 in 2014.
Recent warm weather has brought rain, where their used to be only snow, creating layers of ice over vegetation the muskox used to rely on to get them through winter. As the climate becomes more unpredictable, conservation and re-population efforts are more important than ever. Here’s the product of one such effort at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Muskox are slow breeders, producing one calf every two to three years. These photos belong to nature photographer Doug Lindstrand can be purchased on his website DougLindstrand.com. Watch Musk Ox Battle One of the Harshest Climates on the Planet: