Muskox Calves Rescued
June 08, 2011
Both calves were born in a herd on the North Slope near the Dalton Highway. In each case, the calves were not orphaned, but had been separated from their mothers for three days, and could no longer survive in the wild.
“Muskox calves spend at least a year with their mothers and can nurse for even longer,” said wildlife veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen. “Once a calf has been bottle fed by a human for the better part of a year, it becomes too attached to humans. It’s not possible to reintroduce it to a wild herd.”
The behavior of the muskox herd was being observed as part of a Fish & Game research project. On May 12th, a researcher noticed a calf about a mile away from the herd. Based on tracks at the scene, the herd may have been scattered after being chased by a grizzly bear.
The researcher attempted to reunite the calf and its mother by leading the calf toward the herd, but the following day, the herd had moved even farther from the calf, which had become extremely weak. The department does not recommend people to attempt to reunite muskox calves with herds because muskox can charge when they feel threatened, especially large bulls.
Abandoned or orphaned wildlife cannot be taken from the wild unless permanent homes are available and have been approved through the Department of Fish and Game.
After contacting Fish and Game’s wildlife veterinarian, researchers learned that applications had been approved from both Alaska’s Large Animal Research facility (LARS) and the Alaska Zoo to receive muskox calves if they became available. The calf was brought to LARS where it was given fluids and a high-fat milk replacement formula developed for arctic ungulate calves.
On May 13, Fish and Game staff received word of a second calf spotted by Alyeska workers in the same area but several miles from the herd. A veterinarian working for Alyeska received permission to transport the calf to Fairbanks on a ConocoPhillips/BP flight. After being evaluated and given fluids at LARS, the calf started to gain weight and it was transferred to the Alaska Zoo.
“First time mothers often don’t go back and look for their calf after being separated,” said wildlife biologist Beth Lenart. “It’s not uncommon, and nature takes its course. What is very unusual is that the calves were noticed by trained staff in the field, that LARS was able to temporarily house the calves, that transportation was available, and that requests for muskox calves to permanent homes had been approved and were on file. Things fell into place.”
Muskox populations on the North Slope have been declining and are the focus of research to determine causes of the decline and management strategies to maintain the herd. Grizzly bear predation has been documented as a primary source of muskox mortality.
Quoting an ADFG newsrelease, the loss of two calves from the herd is unfortunate, but both calves will help researchers and the public learn more about muskox.
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