Darlene Cardinal slammed her brakes in order to stop herself from crashing into a wild muskox last month. It was a rare event for someone who lives in the community of Fort Chipewyan, Alta.
Cardinal’s first instinct after avoiding the crash was to start filming the animal.
“I was in shock because I couldn’t believe, like, what’s happening?” she said. “You know, like, am I, am I actually seeing this?”
Featured VideoDarlene Cardinal slammed on the brakes to avoid crashing into a wild muskox, roaming hundreds of kilometres from its usual turf much farther north. Then she shot a video of the animal. ‘I was in shock because I couldn’t believe, like, what’s happening?’
Cardinal uploaded the video to social media — and was convinced that she was looking at a buffalo before she was flooded with comments letting her know that it was actually a muskox.
“I was like wow, a muskox, even more weird, even more rare,” she said, adding that she felt honoured to see the animal.
Muskoxen are shaggy-haired animals with horns that curve upwards. The furry beasts are often mistaken for buffalo or bison, and are typically found farther up north on the Arctic tundra and Arctic islands.
While sightings of muskoxen in Alberta are rare, they are not unheard of. CBC reported similar sightings in 2012 and 2019.
Cardinal saw the muskox while she was driving home from the Fort Chipewyan airport on Saturday, Oct. 28. Within minutes of posting her video, she saw other vehicles driving toward the airport to catch a glimpse of the animal.
“Everybody wanted to see the muskox,” she said. “It’s an exciting thing.”
Why are muskox travelling so far down south?
Susan Kutz, a professor at the University of Calgary, has been studying muskoxen and caribou for the past 30 years.
She said the population on the Arctic mainland is expanding so it’s natural for them to take up more space.
But the exact reason for them to travel so far south remains unclear.
“The expansion down into the trees, into the forests and further south is something we don’t really fully understand,” she said.
Kutz says research to date on muskoxen who travel so far south leaves open many questions, including what types of threats they face, types of diseases, how they respond to predators and what they eat.
“Tonnes of things we just, we don’t really understand about, as far as, you know, why they’re moving there. But also what does that mean for them?” she said. “Is it good for them? Is it bad? Who knows?”
She said potential causes for their movement could include wildfires and climate change, but more research needs to be done to determine the exact reason.
Kutz said muskoxen travelling south are at risk of contracting diseases — like bovine brucellosis, tuberculosis and anthrax — and bringing them back North.
But not this muskox.
Community members told CBC News the animal was shot and killed, and its meat was used for food.
Some members of the community said that it shouldn’t have been shot, while others said it was fair game as hunting food.
Alice Rigney, a Fort Chipewyan elder, said she thought it was okay for the muskox to be shot for food.
“It’s food, when you live in an isolated community where our food cost is so high,” she said. “It provides food for a few families.”