The CWHC – Québec help out with a research project on muskoxen in Nunavik
Muskoxen are massive herbivores inhabiting lower interior and coastal plains, as well as river valleys. They are known by Inuits as umingmak, which means “the bearded one”, in reference to their characteristic thick fur coat which protect them from cold. Most of the 85 000 or so Canadian muskoxen are found in islands in the Arctic, especially on Banks and Victoria Islands. Several populations of muskoxen are declining. Some populations, such as the one in Nunavik, Nord-du-Québec, are issued from introduced animals and are now well established. The animals introduced in the province of Quebec did adapt really well and seem to have formed two separated units, which are expending. One of these units is found on the East coast of Hudson Bay (close to Umiujaq and Inukjuak), whereas the other is located between Kuujjuaq and Quaqtaq on the West side of the Ungava Bay. The impact of this introduced population on the ecosystem and on their health is poorly understood. A team from the Université Laval (under the direction of Steeve Côté), in collaboration with the Ministère de la Faune, des Forêts et des Parcs, has started a research project aiming to increase our knowledge on these two large groups of muskoxen. Benjamin Lamglait and Stéphane Lair from CWHC – Quebec were invited to participate to this project as veterinarians in order to help with the chemical immobilisations and to do a health assessment of the animals. Captured muskoxen from Nunavik were equipped with satellite collars during two field missions in April and December 2017. In addition, some biological samples, such as blood and feces, as well as morphometric measurements, were taken. The muskox groups were located and approached by helicopter, then one animal from the group was anesthetized. The drugs used were highly potent, so the volume needed fit into a small dart which was delivered remotely using a using a CO2 injection rifle. The signals sent by the satellite collars will improve our understanding of the ecology and behaviour of these large mammals of Northern Quebec. The health status of the animals will be communicated when the test results will be available. So far, the examined muskoxen appear to be in good physical condition. The adult females were often pregnant, and several calves and juveniles were present in the groups surveyed.