Powerful ungulates native to the Arctic: a family of musk oxen increased in the Moscow Zoo

August 12
Culture

A musk ox calf was born in the Moscow Zoo for the first time in three years. These unique artiodactyls native to the Arctic combine the characteristics of two animals at the same time: they resemble bulls in their physique and internal organs, and sheep in their habits. Hence the musk oxen got their name. And although the size of their wild population does not cause serious concerns of scientists yet, the species is listed in the International Red Book.

"The first musk ox - they are also called musk oxen - joined the collection of the Moscow Zoo in 1972. To start reproduction of these animals, we brought three more individuals in 2002. .Since then, they regularly bring offspring. But since we have only one breeding female, the calves do not appear every year. This summer, for the first time since 2018, she again gave birth to a calf - a small female. Immediately after birth, the baby stood up on her weak hoofs, and her mother carefully licked her. Zoologists have already examined the baby and determined that she is healthy," Svetlana Akulova, general director of the Moscow Zoo, said.

So far, the calf mainly feeds on mother's milk. It is fat enough in female musk oxen for the calves to grow quickly and recover. The weight of the newborn has already reached 21 kilograms; she is actively studying the world around her and slowly trying food for adults. The summer diet of musk oxen in the zoo includes fresh willow branches and grass, in winter - hay and dry branches. All year round, the animals receive special feed concentrate and vegetables.

In total, four representatives of this species, including a calf, live in the Moscow zoo. Their enclosure is located on the old territory next to the dwelling of maned wolves. So that the mother and baby would not be disturbed by other members of the herd and extraneous noises, they were moved to a separate enclosure in a closed part of the zoo. When the newborn grows up, she will be sent to one of the leading Russian or foreign zoos, where she will be able to help in creating a reserve population of the species.

Musk oxen are the only modern representatives of the musk oxen genus of the tubicorn family. Their most ancient ancestors lived in the highlands of Central Asia in the Miocene epoch - more than 10 million years ago. About 3.5 million years ago, when the climate became colder, the ancestors of musk oxen descended from the Himalayas and settled in Siberia and the rest of Northern Eurasia. During the Illinois Glaciation, they migrated across the Bering Isthmus to North America, then to Greenland. In the late Pleistocene, the population of these artiodactyls significantly decreased due to warming. They also often became the prey of primitive people. However, despite all the difficulties and hardships, musk oxen, along with bison and reindeer, are the only ungulate mammals of the Arctic that were able to survive the Late Pleistocene extinction.

Today, the natural habitat of musk oxen has significantly narrowed; it is limited to North America, the Parry Archipelago, as well as the northern regions of Greenland. And although the number of wild musk oxen has not yet approached the critical mark that puts the species at risk of extinction, zoologists are making great efforts to try to return the bulls to their historical homeland and increase the number of livestock. So, in the middle of the XIX century, musk oxen disappeared in Alaska, but in 1930 a small herd was settled there, which successfully did well. In Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, animals could not be reintroduced. Soviet specialists were also engaged in the settlement of musk oxen in the tundra zone. As a result of their work, artiodactyls appeared in the Taimyr tundra (according to approximate estimates of scientists, about seven to eight thousand individuals live there), on Wrangel Island (about 800-900 animals), as well as in the Polar Urals, the Yamal Peninsula, in Yakutia and the Magadan region.

These are large, heavy animals. The height of an adult individual at the shoulders can reach one and a half meters, the body weight varies between 600-750 kilograms. The fur of musk oxen is gray, chestnut, brown or black. They are covered with a long and very thick hair with a dense short medium hair, which protects them in harsh Arctic conditions. Musk oxen can boast one of the warmest fur coats in the animal world, they do not even care about gusty winds and very low temperatures. When snowstorms begin, they just lie down with their backs to the wind and wait out the bad weather. Musk oxen are strong and dangerous animals - they are distinguished by powerful, well-developed muscles and massive horns in the shape of a sickle.

Animals lead a nomadic lifestyle. In winter, they migrate to the mountains in search of food, since a strong wind sweeps the snow cover from the peaks. Thanks to the well-developed sense of smell, musk oxen can find food even under the thickness of snow. They feed on birch and willow branches, lichens, moss, yagel and other vegetation. The wouldn’t mind eating mushrooms and berries.

In the spring, musk oxen return to the valleys and plains of the tundra. Like sheep, they get together in small herds, the number of which in summer is from four to 10 animals. In winter, they are more vulnerable, as it is difficult for them to move through the ice and it is more difficult to get food, so the herds increase to 15-20 individuals-together it is easier for musk oxen to fend off predators, such as wolves, brown and polar bears. The leader of the group can be either a strong male or an adult experienced female.

The life expectancy of musk oxen is 11-14 years, and with enough food they can live twice as long.

This summer, another Arctic inhabitants - polar owls -brought offspring for the Moscow Zoo. Four chicks were born. The species is listed in the International Red Book and belongs to the vulnerable category. The natural population of these predatory birds has about 20 thousand individuals, but it is decreasing from year to year.

Source: mos.ru

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