Tails From The Zoo

Musk Ox March 9, 2010

Filed under: Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 8:19 pm
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This past Sunday on CJOB’s Zoo Knew, Chris and I talked about one of the best examples of an animal that is adapted to Arctic’s harsh winter environment, the musk ox. In case you missed it, here are some of the things we talked about.


Currently we have 2.2 musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) on display at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. This includes one bull, two cows, and a young male born last summer.

Diet: Lichens, sedges, mosses, grasses and flowering plants when available in the wild. Their zoo diet is alfalfa, hay and ruminant pellets.

Predators: Wolves and (sometimes) bears

Average lifespan: 12 to 20 years

Height at shoulder: 4 to 5 ft

Average Weight: 225 to 365 kg  (500 to 800 lbs)

  • Females average 90 kg less than males

Body Length: 2 – 2.45 m  (6.6 – 8 ft)

Size at Birth: 18 inches high and 25 -30 lbs


Population and Distribution: Musk ox are considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN with a world population of <120,000.

  • Canadian Arctic: 85,000
  • Greenland: 20,000
  • Introduced populations also occur in Svalbard, Alaska, Russia and Norway (~10,000)


Hair: The Inuit call musk ox by the name omingmak, which means “the animal with skin like a beard”.

Musk ox are renouned for their hair. They have a course outer layer of long hair that becomes a long shaggy coat (or skirt). This outer layer can grow to nearly a metre (3 ft) in length for the winter, longer than any other mammal. Musk ox have a second layer of soft woolly underfur. Called quviut (“KIV-ee-it”), it is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and finer than cashmere.

Musk ox are often mistaken for bison, yak and even cattle (at least they are when I’ve taken tour groups around the zoo). And while these comparisons are superficially understandable, they are in fact more closely related to sheep and goats.


References: National Geographic Canada, Hinterland Who’s Who, World Association of  Zoos and Aquariums

Compiled by Scott Gray, Zoological Society of Manitoba


Musk ox Interpretive Sign: http://assiniboinepark.ca/media/animals/pdf/Muskox.pdf (please note that this sign is now a little out of date)

The Inuit call musk ox by the name omingmak, which means “the animal with skin like a beard”.

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