Alaska residents will be allowed to kill a muskox if the animal is stranded on a block of floating ice in the Bering Sea. Due to ever warming temperatures, oxen are getting in trouble in increasing numbers, as they wander out onto ice which then breaks off from the mainland, leaving the animals stranded. The oxen would otherwise be doomed to death – either from starvation, or due to drowning in the icy waters, since they are known to be terrible swimmers.

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The stocky, long-haired mammals weigh between 500-800 pounds each, so a rescue operation would be quite an undertaking, considering the animals are easily spooked. In order to rescue a stranded muskox while alive, one can imagine that a team of veterinarians with literal boatloads of tranquilizers might be needed. Alaska big game officials decided that allowing hunters to put these animals out of their misery was the best solution to this unusual problem. Although experts say that musk oxen get stranded just once every few years, it’s reasonable to assume that the incidents will increase, as global warming causes ice floes to melt and crack at a faster rate, especially along the shoreline where musk oxen roam.

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This isn’t something that state officials decided to do willy-nilly, we’ll have you know. The special permission to hunt the musk oxen trapped in these dire circumstances comes in response to requests from a tiny village of native people. The suggestion originated from the village of Mekoryuk, a Cu’pik native community of 210 and the only village on Nunivak Island, just north of the Aleutian islands. They argued that, rather than allow the musk oxen to drown (and thus essentially go to waste), the ability to hunt those stranded animals would benefit natives, who rely on local wildlife for sustenance. Rather than call it hunting, in this instance, Patrick Jones, assistant state area biologist, prefers to refer to it as a “harvest.”

The stranded animals in question are likely to be ‘harvested’ by experienced hunters on boats who are already in pursuit of other sea mammals – such as a walrus or seal. In the case of those animals, these aquatic hunters will attempt to shoot the animal while on ice, to avoid losing it to the icy waters. Jones says this is essentially what will happen with the musk oxen. Because of this expertise, Jones feels that the fate for the stranded musk oxen is much better than being left to starve or drown.

Hunters who take advantage of this new allowance will have to provide photographic evidence that the animal in question was truly stranded in order to avoid prosecution for killing a musk oxen without a permit.

Via The Guardian

Images via Wikimedia and Bering Land Bridge National Preserve/Flickr