National Geographic : 1909 Jul
THE BIG GAME OF ALASKA * BY WILFRED H. OSGOOD, OF THE U. S. BIOLOGICAL SURVEY ALASKA is not, like Africa, a coun try where great herds of game of many kinds are seen even by the passing traveler; yet in its various parts our northern possession is the home of many important game animals, including some which are the largest and finest of their kinds. Owing to the diverse topography and range of climatic conditions within the territory, the game is not uniformly dis tributed; indeed, there are many large areas in which game of any kind is ex ceedingly scarce, and doubtless this was true even before the days of the gold hunters. But within its chosen haunts each of the various game animals is abundant. In the extensive forests of the interior the giant moose stalks about in silent majesty, while on the surround ing peaks of the highest mountains of North America the agile mountain sheep follows its roughly beaten trails over the pinnacles. On the bleak tundras of the Arctic coast, as well as on the treeless mountain slopes farther south, herds of caribou rove in countless numbers. Even among the ice floes of the frigid Arctic one may encounter the great polar bear and the huge, awkward walrus. In contrast to these is the graceful little Sitka deer, an animal of southern affinities, which threads its maze of trails in the luxuriant vegetation of the southeastern coast dis trict. To this attractive picture for the big-game hunter is still to be added the grizzly and black bears and the great fish-eating brown bears of the Alaska Peninsula. But Alaska's game is scarcely of more interest to sportsmen than to the pioneers who live their lives in the great northern territory and greatly appreciate a fare of juicy moose or caribou meat instead of salt pork. Fortunately both sportsmen and Alaskan residents are becoming awakened to the need of husbanding their stock of wild game instead of sacri ficing it to immediate desires. Laws are difficult to enforce in a frontier country and the safety of game lies largely in the fostering of good public sentiment, Alaska can no more afford to waste its game than its fish, forests, or minerals. In the United States and the Canadian provinces a tardy appreciation of the value of game and an apprehensive reali zation of its impending extinction are causing the enactment of many stringent laws, while not a few sanctuaries or game refuges are being set apart. In many cases the game is disappearing, not because of unrestricted killing, but on account of a reduced food supply, the winter range of the animals having been occupied for agricultural purposes. Not withstanding the rapid economic develop ment of the territory, it is unlikely that such conditions will ever exist in Alaska, and the necessity of restocking the natu ral preserves there need never arise if suitable preventive measures are taken before it is too late. The range for game in Alaska will remain indefinitely; our obligation is only that of caving the ani mals themselves. Taking up the game animals of Alaska individually, we may begin with the largest, the moose. THE ALASKAN MOOSE IS THE BIGGEST MOOSE KNOWN Both the well-known moose of eastern North America and its relative, the elk of the Old World, are surpassed in aver age size by the Alaskan animal, which zoologists distinguish as a separate vari ety (Alce americanus gigas). Its antlers are particularly large, having an average spread of from 5 to 6 feet, and in no small number of recorded instances even exceeding 6 feet. Moose are generally distributed throughout the forested parts * Several of the author's photographs illustrating this article were taken on the Canadian side of the line in the Yukon Territory, but the scenes and animals are characteristically Alaskan.