by Dr. Taras Sipko
Considerable part of the territory of Russia faces the Polar Ocean. Territories with severe climate and long periods of low temperatures are sizeable. The task of reintroduction of such a well adapted for the habitat in the North specie as muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus), seemed challenging for biologists in Russia. According to the reports (Vereshagin, Barishnikov, 1985), the species has inhabited Taimyr peninsula relatively recently, where remains of muskoxen of 2000 - 4000 years old were discovered.
Reintroduction of muskoxen aims the restoration of the biological diversity of the Northern ecosystems. For the pastures of the North, reintroduction is expected to effect in the boost of the volume of utilization of the vegetable organics, and considerable acceleration of the substance transformation on all trophic levels, with consequent increase in the crop capacity, and share of the superior plants.
Assumably, the reintroduced muskoxen shall become a dependable food support for the residents of the Northern Russia. According to the research, the ecosystem of the Northern Russia is capable to contain over 2 million muskoxen without harm to itself.
The shore line of the Polar Ocean was chosen as a site for reintroduction of the muskoxen. According to the reintroduction plan, a chain of flocks, located within 600-700 km from each other, shall be set. Length of individual migration way of a young mail muskoxen bull amounts to 800 km (Yakushkin, 1998). Exchange of the animals shall be possible. In prospect, united area of habitat of muskoxen shall form out.
Initial reintroductions of muskoxen took place in 1974 and 1975 when 10 and 20 animals were delivered from Banks Island (Canada) and Nunivak Island (Alaska, USA) respectively, to the Eastern part of Taimyr Peninsula. Population formed out successfully, spread to the North, East and South (Putorana Plato) of the Peninsula. Quantity of muskoxen amounted to 2,500 species in 2002 (Sipko et al., 2003). In 2010 increased up to 6500. In 1975 20 muskoxen from Nunivak Island (Alaska, USA) were delivered to the Vrangel Island. Quantity of the population grew slowly there, for the significant amount of the animals did not survive the initial period of acclimatization. Quantity of animals in the population on the Island have raised up to 750 species by 2003 (Gruzdev, et al., 2003). In the present days size of the population have stabilized at the rate of 800-850 species.
Populations from Vrangel Island and Taimyr Peninsula donated animals for further reintroduction. Sequence of the reintroduction is shown in Table 1.
Age limits for animals, bound for the fowl and reintroduction were Age limits for animals, bound for the fowl and reintroduction were within 0,3 – 3,5 years old, though most of the animals captured were at the age of 0,5 years old.
Vrangel Island is a nature preserve. Vehicles with low-pressure tires and snowmobiles were used for the fowl on the Island. After the animals were surrounded by people with dogs, selected species were sedated with the syringe shot with an air gun. Sedated species were separated from the main flock, and placed into cases for transportation to the closure, where required quantity of animals was accumulated. Helicopter was used for transportation of the animals away from the Island to the closure near the airport on the Continent. Before loading in the plane, for the delivery to the sites of reintroduction, animals were put in individual transportation cases again. Upon arrival, animals were delivered to the site of reintroduction, or closure for temporary keeping, by means of transportation, available in the area.
On Taimyr Island, the helicopter was used to locate and deliver the muskoxen. Method of fowl was the same as on Vrangel Island; animals were put in the individual cases and delivered to the closure for temporary keeping. Eventually, captured animals were delivered by helicopter directly to the site of reintroduction, where they were released. Though, normally, animals had been kept in a closure for some time, before they have been released.
The first stage of reintroduction of muskoxen to the Northern Russia, starting in the 70’s of the XX century proved to be successful. The said results have set a basis for the following reintroduction of muskoxen to Russia. (Sipko, Gruzdev, et al., 2003).
Permanent surveillance of the reintroduced animals is hampered by distant locations of areas of reintroduction. Counts, performed in Yakutia in 2005, resulted to quantity of animals of 347 (total for 4 areas of reintroduction). Quantity of muskoxen has more than tripled in ten years. Population of Bulun area has split in two nearly equal parts. Part of the animals moved 120km West to the delta of Lena river, where it remains now. The fastest growth of muskoxen is observed in Allaikhov area, where 18 calves have been born in 3 years.
Complicated working conditions, and long distances presume longer process of transportation of the animals. Furthermore, numerous transfers and changes of means of transportation along the way, worsen the process of transportation for the animals to a scale, that requires for skilled specialists to accompany them along the way. Additionally to the animals captured for reintroduction (Table 1), there were captured 81 muskoxen for experiments on domestication, and for zoological parks. Gathered information and skills on the fowl, keeping of the animals for following release, allows to keep the rate of loss within 10 – 15 per cent.
As the practice shows, animals from Taimyr Peninsula are easier conform in the Central Siberia, while those from Vrangel Island – in the East of Russia. Assumably, introduction of the animals from two donating populations to the same area shall have progressive effect. Program for additional introduction of muskoxen is in progress now. Plan for introduction of muskoxen to the mountain systems of the Northern Asia is under development.