Muskoxen are like a myth on four legs.
They’re ridiculously strange and shaggy, and so elusive in their High Arctic stomping grounds that for years, few humans could hope to see one.
But now, suddenly, they’re coming to a town near you.
Over the past decade, they’ve been wandering south from the remote tundra, turning up near villages along the Mackenzie River and Great Slave Lake. Residents of Tulita and Fort Resolution suddenly have muskoxen on their doorstep. In recent years, one was photographed just a few dozen kilometres northeast of Fort Smith, on the NWT-Alberta border, and another was spotted at Cameron Falls, just east of Yellowknife.
“Muskox are really neat animals. It’s really cool to have them down here,” says territorial biologist Allicia Kelly, who’s conducted aerial surveys of the animals. She says as odd as it seems, their incursion isn’t so shocking. Before the fur trade, they were indigenous to the southern NWT; demand for their ultra-warm hides wiped them out. “So, by the time the 1900s came along, there wasn’t much in the way of muskox in the trees,” she says.
It seems, then, that these fabled Arctic ungulates are just staging a southern comeback. And, Kelly says, their visits will likely continue – until hunters, wolves or lack of habitat bring their expansion to a halt.