Treasure of the Arctic
Once a year, when the long rays of sunlight gradually begin to pierce the Arctic’s winter darkness, the frozen tundra transforms into a landscape of luxury as rumbling herds of Muskox begin to show their downy undercoat called Qiviuk (kiv-ee-uk or kiv-ee-ut). A fiber softer than cashmere and warmer than wool.
This exquisitely soft undercoat is an exceptionally fine and precious fibre that protects this prehistoric mammal (that once roamed with the mastodons) against the extreme cold of the Canadian High Arctic.
The Muskox story begins 600,000 years ago when millions of these short-legged, shaggy behemoths walked across the Bering Land Bridge during the last Ice Age and managed to survive an era that most animals (including the woolly mammoth) did not. Fossil records indicate that the muskox traveled as far south as Tennessee, although they now live exclusively in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska, and Greenland. The global population is estimated at 180,000.
Known by the native populations as Oomingmack (the bearded one), this imposing animal is smaller than a domesticated bovine. The males possess a horn boss - a thick bony structure, which rather looks like a football helmet mounted to their forehead with tipped-up horns at either side. The horn boss acts as body armor predominantly during rutting season when males compete for breeding privileges among harems of females. They face-off at a distance of up to 150 yards and then charge into a full head-on collision at speeds of up to 40 mph. As the horn bosses crash together, the noise splinters the landscape like a giant oak being felled in the forest.
With the exception of rutting season, the Muskox is typically a docile creature sharing its habitat with herds of migrating caribou and the pristine Arctic fox. As long as food is plentiful, they typically don’t travel more than six miles. Their only natural predator is the wolf. When threatened with attack, the muskox stands their ground and lines up shoulder to shoulder in a circular formation with their babies protected inside the perimeter.
The muskox is both a majestic and extraordinary beast, not only because of its luxurious fiber but its remarkable place in history.
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