National Geographic : 1970 Jun
At College today we have 63 musk oxen, with another batch of calves, perhaps 26, due to be born just about the time this article appears. We are al ready well into a program of training Eskimo men in herd management and Eskimo women in the art of knitting qiviut garments. Soon we hope to begin the third and final stage of our project: the distribu tion of the musk oxen as domestic animals to the coastal villages of Alaska. Meanwhile we continue with stage two in other parts of the North. In 1967, acting in response to Eskimo petitions and in collaboration with the Province of Quebec, we set out to establish a breed ing station near Ungava Bay. We chose for our site Old Fort Chimo, an abandoned trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company (map, page 873). Eureka, the joint Canadian-U. S. weather sta tion on Ellesmere Island's Fosheim Peninsula, in the Northwest Territories, was selected as main base for our capture operations. We landed there on August 19 and began searching on foot for a herd that weather-station personnel had seen that morning a mile from the airstrip. The barren terrain seemed incapable of support ing large animal life, yet we saw thirty or so adults, with four calves frisking about. Most of the ground they were grazing was gravel or frost-churned mud, with yards between the occasional clumps of grass. This is typical of the Fosheim Peninsula, yet it supports a dense population of wild musk oxen. Roundup Concentrates on Cows The next morning I flew with Leo Durocher not baseball's Durocher but the pilot of our Super Cub-to spot herds. Within a 10-mile radius of the station we counted 51 calves-a bumper crop! Our only problem would be distinguishing the sexes so that we could capture our 12 females and three males without wasting effort taking surplus males. It proved a big problem. We had discovered during our hunts on Nunivak in October 1964 that female calves show a reddish-brown stain under their tails, and we had been able to capture the desired sex without a mistake. On Ellesmere, in mid-August, we found no sign of the stain, and concluded it probably did not appear till fall. As a result, we were forced to capture at random. I had eight companions on our hunts out of Eu reka: Peter Strong, Lansing Holden, Burges Smith, Duke Watson, Jim Buckley, Roger Le Jeune, and photographers Robert Madden and Lars Aby. Still, it took us more than two weeks to take 15 calves in the desired sex ratio. The time would have been much longer had we not had helicopters to support the work of our Super Cub. For the choppers, we were indebted to the Canadian icebreakers John A. Macdonald and Labrador and the Canadian 874 Bound for the barn, bulls run be fore a scooter-mounted herder on the College, Alaska, farm. Carefully cleaned of their valuable qiviut, these musk oxen look sleeker than their wild relatives. The captives have been dehorned so they will not injure each other. The animals produce excellent meat, but the author feels musk oxen are too val uable as wool-bearers to butcher. Games musk oxen play include pushball. When the author throws the ball into the pen, the animals divide into two teams and nose the ball back and forth. Another favorite is "king of the mountain": If one climbs a mound, the others feel obliged to shove him off. They also hitch rides on the motor-drawn sledges that bring their winter hay.