Umingmak (Muskox)

Muskox are one of the oldest surviving herbivores on the planet. While they have historically existed on the Yukon North Slope since the last ice age, they disappeared in the mid-1800s, likely due to increased hunting pressure that came with a surge in Arctic visitors around that time. However, after a successful reintroduction a hundred years later, muskox are once again a part of the Yukon North Slope landscape, with a few hundred animals distributed in small groups across the region.

Watch our short animation to learn more about the story of muskox on Yukon's North Slope!


A Shared Landscape

Humans aren't the only ones that interact with muskox. In fact, Inuvialuit have observed that good muskox habitat can also be good caribou habitat. 

Exploring the relationship between caribou and muskox is one of our Council's priorities, including how these two species may affect each other's ranges. Check out our infographic to learn more!


How do muskox and caribou co-exist?

Is there enough room for muskox and caribou on the Yukon North Slope? Collaborative work led by Laurence Carter suggests the answer is: yes! This conclusion is based on the numbers of muskox and caribou on the Yukon North Slope today. There appears to be enough space and habitat for both animals to co-exist. This infographic explains a little about how the study has conducted and what the findings are.

This research project evolved out of an Aklavik community question and a desire to make sure the Porcupine Caribou Herd continues to thrive. It has been supported by the Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board, Government of Northwest Territories, Government of Yukon, Parks Canada, McGill University, and...Us! We love collaborative projects, driven by the interests and values of local communities.

Do muskox affect the plants of the Yukon North Slope?

As part of the study looking at the relationship between muskox and caribou, researchers also explored how muskox interact with the plants throughout their range. This research question was also driven by community observations on the Yukon North Slope. 

At this time, muskox do not appear to have much of an impact on the vegetation in their range. This is a good thing: at current population levels, muskox are in balance with their ecosystem. 

How Do We Study Muskox?

Inuvialuit Traditional Knowledge and science-based knowledge are brought together to inform how we collectively manage muskox on the Yukon North Slope. Some of the key pieces of information we need regularly are how many muskox are on the Yukon North Slope from year to year (population size and trend), where they are (habitat and accessibility for hunters), and who makes up their groups (males, females, age classes). Early-career scientist and Inuvialuk, Jessica Norris, created the following video to share how this work is accomplished. 

Muskox Management on the North Slope

Our Council has been collaborating with a number of partners to create a framework to support the management of Yukon North Slope muskox. This work is guided by the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.

"The management of the wildlife populations and habitat to ensure the maintenance of the quality, including the long-term optimum productivity, of these resources and to ensure the efficient utilization of the available harvest." - Inuvialuit Final Agreement

There are three main goals established under this framework:

  1. Provide opportunities for Inuvialuit hunters to harvest muskoxen, while maintaining a healthy, productive, and sustainable population.
  2. Minimize any detrimental effects that muskoxen may have on caribou and caribou habitat and harvesting.
  3. Cooperate and share information about muskoxen among users to develop and implement management and research programs.

Further, in order to support the management framework and to make sound decisions about muskox, we have also been working to develop a research plan for the next five years, addressing key knowledge gaps and questions, including those raised by Inuvialuit. 

Check out the Muskox Management Framework and Research Plan here.

Muskox Podcast Episode

Have a listen to our podcast, which addresses the making of a plan for muskox.

Umingmak and Inuvialuit

For Inuvialuit, muskox represent an important subsistence harvest resource, in addition to caribou. These large herbivores have been spotted by hunters and other land users all over the Yukon North Slope, from tundra habitat to coastal plains. While muskox are not migratory in the same way has Porcupine caribou, they do move between different types of habitat depending on food, weather, and time of year.

Grizzlies and Muskox

Grizzly bears have also noticed the return of muskox and, according to Inuvialuit Traditional Knowledge, have been increasingly following herds. This has been particularly prevalent in spring time, when muskox have more vulnerable young ones. 

Our Council is working to better understand the population dynamics of Yukon North Slope muskox - part of this puzzle is determining the role of predators, like grizzly bears, in muskox survival.

Muskox Resources

Explore our Resource Library for more information on Umingmak!