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Biologist Forced to “Destroy” Musk Ox in Kotzebue, Salvages Meat

A bull musk ox is dead after it was shot by an area biologist in Kotzebue following the goring of a sled-dog early last Friday morning.

“Well the whole story actually starts several days before we had to shoot it,” explained Jim Dau, an area biologist who’s been with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 25 years. “But I got a call about 6am saying there was a musk ox in town, in John Baker’s dog lot. So, I went down there and the musk ox was there, and very close quarters.”

Though musk ox themselves are hardly new, Dau said the rutting six-year-old from last week’s incident stood out.

“We’ve had musk ox, you know, around Kotzebue for a long time. It’s usually just a single animal. Once in a while it’s a couple. What made this one unusual was just the persistence of this bull—he just kept coming back.”

Dau and others had already chased the animal out of town using four-wheelers, trucks, and a small plane that Thursday night. But early Friday morning, after it injured a sled-dog inside Iditarod champion John Baker’s lot, Dau and a local dog-catcher found the animal hanging in a nearby construction site, and felt they were running out of options.

“Town was waking up, and we just didn’t see any chance of out of getting him out—actually out of the city. So we killed him where he was,” Dau said.

“It was in a good spot—a safe spot. And that was the other thing, if he’d’ve moved we wouldn’t have had the option of shooting him because he would have been, you know, in front of a house.”

Dau shot the bull through the neck with a .270 rifle, killing it quickly.

“As far as meat salvage goes, as soon as I killed him I called Cyrus Harris from Maniiliq, he administers the traditional foods program. And I told Cyrus that I’d had to destroy this musk ox and was he interested in the meat for the food program, and boy he was absolutely interested, he came right down, he was there in 15 minutes. Helped me butcher it. We hung the meat for a day. The meat will go to—he’s got a whole list of elders from around town that he provides with traditional foods.”

Alaska regulations on killing an animal in defense of life or property—DLP—require turning hides, skulls, and game meat over to the department of Fish and Game. Trophy pieces are warehoused until they’re auctioned off in February, but local managers use their discretion about salvageable meat. They’re guided by the department’s general principal that DLP incidents cannot benefit an individual, but should bring something back to the community.

“The meat is often what is really most highly valued, especially by villagers,” Dau recounted. “I’ve always asked people—I can’t force ‘em—but I say, ‘look, can you find people who need the meat? that can use it?’ And sometimes they say ‘oh yeah, we’ve already salvaged the meat, it’s hot,’ and it’s spread all through Deering or Ambler or wherever. And people have been really good with us over the years at making sure that that meat does not go to waste.”

Because local decision-making about wildlife varies in different parts of the state, there’s no saying what the standard protocol is for salvaging wild meat.

Peter Bente coordinates ADF&G management from Barrow to Bethel, and says DLP cases in Nome, where his office is, are “infrequent,” only popping up every few years. In the past, the department has worked with a senior center and emergency shelter donating a DLP moose, as well as a musk ox that was hit on the road by a truck.

Dau is well-aware of the recent musk ox troubles in Nome, as well as calls from residents to expand allowable takes. But he cautions that destroying the animals should not be approached lightly.

“My situation was actually pretty easy: it was one bull that just kept coming back, we did everything we could to get him out. It was an easy decision. But boy, when you’re faced with a bunch of a dozen musk ox and there’s cows and there’s calves…what do you do? You can’t just decide ‘we’re gonna pull the trigger on 18 musk ox.’”

Last Dau had heard, the dog injured in the early morning incident is expected to recover.