Muskoxen, like this baby muskox calling in the Alaska Zoo, represent an important success story in wildlife conservation.
Muskoxen are northern animals, well adapted to life in the Arctic. At the close of the last ice age, muskoxen were found across northern Europe, Asia, Greenland and North America. But after the ice age, the musk ox faced a threat more dangerous than wolves and bears - humans. By the mid-1800s, muskoxen had disappeared from Europe and Asia. By the 1920s, these animals were gone from Alaska as well. Overhunting by local residents was probably a contributing factor. Whalers re-supplying their ships with meat also took a heavy toll in some regions, as did Arctic exploring parties.
By the 1920s, the only remaining muskoxen were found in east Greenland and arctic Canada. International concern about the impending extinction of this animal led to a move to restore a protected population in Alaska.
In 1930, 34 muskoxen captured in East Greenland were brought to Fairbanks. This small herd was then transferred to Nunivak Island, a large island in the Bering Sea about 200 miles west of Bethel. The muskoxen thrived there and by 1968 the herd had grown to 750 animals.
Muskox from Nunivak herd have been translocated to establish new herds, on the Seward Peninsula, on Thompson and Nelson Islands, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on Wrangel island and the Taimyr peninsula in Russia. By the year 2000, there were almost 4,000 muskoxen in Alaska. In recent years herds in the Arctic Refuge and adjoining areas have declined somewhat, but other wild populations are growing. This baby muskox is a descendant of the original 34 brought to Alaska from Greenland.