One of the focus areas of the Ministry for Nature Protection in the field of biodiversity enrichment is the work on resettlement of valuable species, which occurred in the near past of the region. In this context the project on Muskox resettlement in Yakutian tundra is of a great importance. In 1996 for the first time in Yakutia 22 specimens were brought from Taymir Peninsula to Bulun tundra.
Nowadays Muskoxen thrive in tundra of Allaikhovskiy, Anabar and Bulunskiy regions of the republic.
Muskox is a typical “tundra-steppe” representative of both Eurasian and American mammoth fauna. Its skeletal remains were found at many places in Western and Eastern Europe, Yamal and Taymir Peninsula, Lowlands of Yana-Indigirka and Kolyma Regions, and in Chukotka.
At the beginning of the 20th century Muskox almost disappeared due to uncontrolled hunting and there were approximately 3,5 thousands animals left in the Northern Greenland and on the Canadian Arctic Archipelago islands. In Alaska the last Muskox was killed in 1863. In order to restore this unique arctic species people from different countries joined forces and took active action. In 1917 Canadian Government banned hunting for 52 years. As a result of restoration and resettlement of this specious within its historical habitat the number of animals increased up to 200 thousands during the 20th century. Muskox restoration demonstrates successful and practical experiment on recovery of the ungulates in the 20th century. In Russia Muskox resettlement was launched in 1974, when Canadian government gave for free 10 one-year-old Muskoxen to the USSR that were brought to the Bikada River Valley in Taimyr Peninsula. Next year more 40 one-year-old Muskoxen were brought from Alaska to Taimyr Peninsula and Wrangle Island.
Muskox consumes unpretentious food that is mainly represented by grass and shrubs. The ratio of willows and lichens my reach up to 30% in a diet of this animal. Thus, muskox may survive under limited food sources of poor tundra vegetation.
Muskoxen resettlement in Yakutia was a theme for numerous discussions for a long time by representatives of zoological science; however its practical implementation became possible only in 1996 when the Directorate of biological resources and protected areas of the Ministry for Nature Protection of the Sakha Republic was established. In 1996 Sakha President Decree issued by M.E. Nikolaev had a program on “Implementation of ecological state policy of the Sakha Republic on conservation and restoration of flora and fauna biodiversity” with a subprogram “Reacclimatization of Muskox in Yakutian tundra” that was prioritized. Thus, during hard times of administration reorganization, Yakutia initiated and revived one of the fundamental works in Russia that was started in 1974 in Taimyr Peninsula.
At first shipped Muskoxen were settled in 1996 in Bulun region. In order to provide a temporary site for Muskoxen a fenced territory was established at “Tiilakh” place near the bank of Bikovskaya Creek (northernmost point of Kharaulakhskiy Mountain Range), food and polyvitamins were delivered as well.
Due to accident caused by arctic weather trapped animals that were in a fenced area, escaped and formed two groups. The first group stayed behind the fence. The second self-depended group overwintered in the valley of the Bulunkaan River. In April 1997 they moved to the Lena River Delta and settled at Diangalaakh-Sise site. Trapped group was released in the June 1997. It settled in “Kisam” Mountains near the initial site.
Animals of subsequent Muskox shipments were released in Anabar and Allaikhovskiy Regions. During 1996-2001 94 individuals were released in Yakutian tundra (the Lower Lena, Indigirka and Anabar Rivers territories). In 2009-2010 the work on Muskoxen resettlement in Yakutian tundra was pursued. In sum, 49 animals were trapped on Taimyr Peninsula and Begichev Island (Anabar region). In 2009 27 specimens were released in Allaikhovskiy Region, in 2009 – 22 animals were resettled in Bulun Region.
According to preliminary data on reacclimatization project, prospects of Muskoxen resettlement are promising due to suitable and favorable environments represented by coastal tundra and territories of large islands of the Arctic Ocean. Continental groups of this species established in tundra sporadically and which have strong index of natural reproduction may guarantee independent expansion, which, in turn, will lead to the amalgamation of local population and formation of continuous areal.
In course of time Muskox hunting will be able to support traditional industry and will ensure supplies of high quality food, leather and fur source for people all year round. Processing and production of Muskox consumable goods will create a number of jobs for the indigenous in traditional sectors of industry.
Due to settled and sedentary lifestyle of Muskox in winters and summers, organization of mass meat production followed by long-term preservation in ice-storages will not be the case in contrast with reindeer meat production.
Due to specific defense reaction, when animals harassed by dogs do not escape but form a circle, hunters do not have to chase after them on snowmobiles and burn expensive gas; they can easily shoot any desired animal according to its sex and age in order to control sex-age structure of a heard.
Prospects for establishing and maintenance of the most productive structure of a heard will make possible to increase production output without loss of productive potential of the species.
According to the international experience in the future when the number of animals becomes sufficient for meat production, the trophy hunting on Muskox, potentially may improve economy of local Arctic settlements.
The Muskox restoration on the area of its original habitat where in the past it was an important environmental component, for sure, will help to revive and to improve ecosystems of tundra landscapes. According to scientific observations trophic competition between Muskox and reindeer is not significant and will not affect co-existence of these two species in a case of sustainable management of their populations’ number. On the extensive lowlands of Anabar, Lena, Yana, Indigirka, Alazeya and Kolyma Rivers, reindeer appear seldom during winter time, in summers pasture site of these two species are separated geographically.
Project implementation followed by natural resettlement of the species will guarantee integration of thriving isolated populations and formation of continuous areal in the Sakha Republic. From the socio-economic point of view, for local residents this will ensure additional meat recourse, financial benefits from meat production, wool and woolen items, and tourism.
According to scientists Yakutian tundra can support up to 150 thousands Muskoxen without causing damage to reindeer husbandry. That means people will be able to utilize up to 30-40 thousands Muskoxen every year – about 4000 tons of meat (which is approximately equal to meat amount of 100 thousands wild reindeer).
Muskox that is well-adapted to harsh climatic conditions after resettling across its origin habitat will start to explore pasture sites of tundra.