Expedition Muskox part 1

Through this blog you can follow us during our new project about the muskox, a powerful ancient arctic animal. On our website you can find more information about the muskox in Scandinavia and the current situation of the population there. Photographers for Conservation have set up a project, which will continue during the coming one to two years. Our goal is to get as much publicity as possible, raise awareness (emotional realization) and help to give this animal a future in Sweden. We will document the
muskox in both the wild and in captivity to get an as complete picture as possible. Please enjoy our first story from Expedition Muskox.

Last July the PFC team took off towards the muskox centre in Tännäs (Härjedalen/Sweden) to meet the people behind the centre and the animal itself. Unfortunately we didn’t have the weather we hoped for, but instead of that Mother Nature decided to give us something else, an encounter with a Brown Bear. We were so thrilled. Even for us, living in the middle of nature, this is not something that happens on a regular basis. We couldn’t wish for a better start of a new project.
A week before we have had our first meeting with Hielke Chaudron. He is one of the animal keepers and guides and he promised to show us around during our first day.
Already after a few minutes we learned about how much the muskox means to him. He is a very passionate man and consisting to help establish the wild population in Sweden and to educate people as much as possible.

Hielke took us behind the scenes and introduced us to female Helga and her calf Idun, who was born this year. The muskox can be a very dangerous animal (especially when they have calves or during rutting season) and during an encounter in the wild you have to be very careful. If you have the right knowledge you may be able to read the animals warning signals. However, many people unfortunately don’t and that’s when accidents happen. In our case there was a large fence between Helga and us so we could enjoy her and her calf Idun safely. The animals in the centre have large living areas. Helga and Idun also share theirs with the young female called Naessa. She was born in August 2010 on the island Ryøya of the coast of Norway and was hand raised. She came to the centre in March 2011 and is very committed to Hielke and also friendly towards other people. Hielke was willing to step in with Naessa, and this was great to see. Unconditional trust. He knows how to handle her and she enjoyed every minute with him. While Marco was photographing, Björn and I had to be very alert for Helga. Björn also took care of the light and he had a perfect position on top of the fence and could overlook a big part of the area. No signs of Helga. We have worked with wild muskox before but never had the chance to experience it like this with Naessa. We could overload her with different camera angles because she was very easy to approach and off course we couldn’t resist touching her.

Marco is photographing Naessa.

We couldn’t approach the males because of the early start of the rutting season. They were even too aggressive to approach the fence. There is a watching bridge at the area where the males’ are staying, which they also use for the guided tours.

Björn is photographing Hielke and Naessa.

It is important that the visitors have a chance to see the animals to get an image of what the guides are telling them. Härje is a huge male and he lives together with Myse, Ullrik and Ullriks kompis, which means Ullriks friend. Härje is just like Naessa from the Norwegian island. You probably can’t picture it when you see him but he’s also hand raised. We followed Hielke to the watching bridge and one of his colleagues prepared some food. It is so exciting to hear the males coming. You don’t see them but the deep and low sound they make is overwhelming.

They only make this sound during rutting season. Most times they will come for the food, but this is their own choice, and lucky for all visitors and us they also showed up this day. For us it was important to be there with a guided tour and see people’s reactions on what they heard and saw. It was great to see how impressed people are by these animals and that they leave the centre with a better understanding and increased knowledge. That’s what it’s all about. For us it’s important to show how the centre educates their guests. Before people come in they only heard about the animal but when they leave they do that with understanding, knowledge and a positive image. The muskox is a mascot for Härjedalen and people can come to the centre to see and learn instead of disturbing the wild herd. Most people thought the muskox looked like a buffalo or a bison and didn’t expect it to look like this.

Hielke could feed Härje with a big spoon, which was quite funny to look at. A huge animal loaded with testosterone eating from a spoon.

Björn is photographing Hielke and Härje.

We assume they have them in stock because Härje is a kind of rough. Björn had another kind of experience as newcomer in the herd. While photographing, Härje made clear to him that he was the only man in charge. Björn had the honour to look a snorting and attacking Härje straight into the eyes. The look on Björns face told he was happy to have the fence in between. But this was a great chance to photograph this close by and walk away in one piece.

We also made a trip to the top of the mountain where you have a great view over the centre and the area. By seeing this, only one thing comes into mind. The Swedish herd of muskoxen must survive and have a future in this breath-taking environment.

Corina in action.

While Björn and Marco went out for a last round to photograph Naessa I tried to record the sound the males make during rutting season. It’s hard to express this in words because it’s wild and overwhelming. We could hear it all day, until I tried to record it. Absolute silence. So unfortunately I can’t share this sound with you on the coming video blog, but I made a good impression of our experiences that day.

The coming weeks the males will join the females. One of the purposes of the centre is breeding. New blood is important for the herd so all hope this will happen through the centre in future.

 

Hope you will enjoy this first impression. PFC will go back to the centre the coming fall.

Corina Glijnis-Noom and the PFC team

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