WCS Scientist Dr. Joel Berger Discusses Preliminary Study Results on the Persistence of Musk Oxen

NEW YORK (December 22, 2010) –Reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, may be flying high on the radar this time of year, but they’re not getting all of the attention. In a recent talk given at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Center for Global Conservation, WCS Conservationist Dr. Joel Berger discussed his latest findings on musk oxen persistence in Alaska.

The focus of the research being conducted by WCS and its partners is to understand what factors are causing musk oxen to thrive in some areas while only holding stable or declining population numbers in others.  The studies are integral to informing future conservation efforts for musk oxen and other at-risk Arctic species, and also to raise the profile of America’s least known large mammal.

Musk oxen—the quintessential Arctic land mammals—grow thick undercoats of soft fleece and shaggy overcoats in winter. The species was extinct in Alaska as recently as the 1880s but was re-introduced into Alaska’s Arctic in the 1970s and today, approximately 3500-4000 musk oxen exist there. Berger stated that only 10-30 of the animals remain in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge–down in number from the more than 400 that lived in the refuge in the 1990s.

“People may think Pleistocene relics exist only in museums or that animals with a highly ordered social structure like elephants exist only in Africa or Asia, but actually they exist here in the American wild,” said Dr. Berger. “We’re just starting to unlock the clues that will inform the conservation of these amazing animals, and to spread the word about what a national treasure they truly are.”

Asked if musk ox could step in and pull a toy-filled sleigh in a pinch, Berger stated, “And then some.”

To interview Dr. Joel Berger, contact Scott Smith at 718-220-3698, or email ssmith@wcs.org.