Musk oxen kill three sled dogs last week
Three dog deaths occurred in Nome due to musk ox gorings last week, all involving different musk ox herds in three different locations.
The most recent attack occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 3 when a sled dog belonging to Mitch Erickson was gored by a musk ox and subsequently had to be put down due to severe injuries. Erickson has, unfortunately, extensive experience with dogs becoming victims of musk ox gorings. “This is our fourth one that got killed,” said Erickson. He formerly kept his dogs at the communal dog lot north of Little Creek Road, but moved his last two home to Icy View after three were killed at the dog lot location. At home, the two remaining dogs had been surrounded by 4-wheelers and other physical barriers to keep out the musk oxen. Since Erickson hadn’t seen any musk oxen for a while he started to clean things up and left a gap. A neighbor heard some noises and it turned out to be a bull trying to get to the dogs. One dog was able to avoid the bull but the other was badly gored.
“We had to put her down,” said Erickson. “That was the third time she’d been attacked by a musk ox. I wouldn’t mind if they tranquilized them and cut the tips of the horns off. They’re basically an invasive species.”
Erickson then showed the Nugget reporter his iPhone with an image of a musk ox herd at Nome-Beltz High School. The photo had been sent to him just a moment earlier.
Rena Greene was home when the animals came galloping into Icy View and she heard them going after Erickson’s dog.
“They were right outside my home,” said Greene. “They’d come so fast. We live right on the outskirts of Icy View.” She said she let the dog out and he was going crazy because there was a herd of 12 just running down the back road. She was concerned because the school bus was unloading kids on a nearby road. Soon she was looking face to face with the bull as he stopped when encountering her deck.
“The minute I opened that door all I saw was this big black thing coming at me. It stopped because the deck was right there,” said Greene.
Prior to that, on Sept 30 in the evening, one of Phil Pryzmont’s sled dogs was attacked and killed by a musk ox bull, reports Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game biologist Bill Dunker. Pryzmont dispatched the attacking musk ox in defense of life and property.
Another incident occurred on Sept. 28, according to Dunker, when a musk ox bull gored and killed a sled dog belonging to Peggy and Jeff Darling, whose dog lot is in the Lester Bench neighborhood. Dunker said the department identified the animal responsible for the attack the next day and an ADF&G biologist killed the musk ox bull involved in the incident.
Dunker has been dealing with musk oxen in Unit 22c.
“This is an issue we’ve dealt with here in Nome for many years,” said Dunker. “This is by no means a new thing for us. We deal with this on a regular basis, primarily during the summer months.”
The animals were planted on the Seward Peninsula in two separate introductions, first in 1970 and again in 1980.
“They experienced steady growth all the way until about 2010,” said Dunker. “That was when the population peaked at just shy of 3,000 animals. It’s since declined and stabilized at a somewhat lower density than what we saw at its peak.”
While there are quite a few animals living in Nome, there are areas outside the city where the animals are just as common. Dunker says there is something that attracts the musk ox to residential areas but he’s not sure what it is.
“During the rut the bulls do have a tendency to travel a bit more,” said Bill Dunker. “They can be a bit easier to agitate and maybe more aggressive. But we find that we have issues with musk ox starting in early May and extending through to October. Basically until they go into their winter habitat which is onto the hilltops and further back off the coastal plain here. But we have just as many problems earlier in the season as we do now.”
Musk ox hunts are managed by subunit.
“The hunt used to begin around January 1 and it was moved to August 1 to provide the permitted hunters with an opportunity to harvest an animal during the time of year when some of those animals are considered a nuisance here in the local area,” said Dunker.
“The upshot is when we do have a nuisance animal we can notify the permit holders and say, ‘We have an animal which is available for harvest. He’s over here. And if you are interested in filling your tag may we point you in that direction.’”
“The local area here is a weapons restricted hunt,” he said. “So it’s limited to shotgun, muzzle loaders, or archery equipment with the proper certification.”
Trooper Maggie Stang, the wildlife trooper for Nome, stressed the need to put safety first in dealing with problem animals. She said when a problem animal is close by it’s best to call the Nome Police Department or the troopers or the Department of Fish and Game.