Two newborn musk oxen were rescued days apart on Alaska's North Slope after they became separated from the same wild herd, likely scattered by a grizzly bear.
One of the female calves was rescued earlier this month by trans-Alaska oil pipeline workers and the other by a state field biologist conducting research on musk oxen populations. The calves, believed to have been born around May 9, were faltering when they were rescued but are now rebounding at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Large Animal Research Center.
"Both of them are gaining weight and doing really well," UAF attending veterinarian John Blake said Friday of the 28-pound animals, which look somewhat like stuffed toys.
The calves were just days old when they were found in the same vicinity about 70 miles south of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, according to Alaska Fish and Game Department spokeswoman Cathie Harms.
The calf rescued by workers of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. was to be transferred to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage Friday, Harms said. The other calf will remain with the UAF center herd.
"It's very, very rare for wild musk ox calves to get brought to other homes," Harms said. "This is a real unique situation."
The first calf was found May 12 by the biologist, who tried to lead it through wilderness terrain to its herd a mile away. But they were unable to catch up and since the state had approved requests for musk ox for permanent housing at the zoo and UAF center, officials decided to fly the increasingly weak baby to Fairbanks.
While that was going on, Fish and Game heard from Alyeska workers that a calf had been found between two pipeline pump stations. The immediate response was "Yeah, we know, we're on it," Harms said.
But it was the other abandoned calf.
Fish and Game initially would not authorize pipeline workers to rescue the calf as required for helping distressed wildlife, until it was known if a home was available and other necessary details were in order, Harms said. The authorization came May 15, following verification that all of the agency's requirements had been met _ including an approved home and that qualified care available, Harms said.
That was two days later. The calf was becoming weaker.
Workers involved in that rescue included an environmental coordinator who is a veterinarian, a mechanic who grew up on a Montana ranch and a technician who paints pictures of musk oxen in his spare time.
Lynda Sather, a Fairbanks-based spokeswoman for Alyeska, visited the calf at the UAF research center on Thursday. She was delighted by what she saw.
"She looked absolutely adorable and very healthy," Sather said. "She was not afraid of people, but she was a little cautious around them and didn't like loud noises. But once she warmed up she would let us pet her and scratch her a little bit."
The rescue by Alyeska workers was first reported by The Alaska Dispatch.
Musk oxen were once native to Alaska but were hunted to extinction several hundred years ago. The animals were reintroduced, starting with a small herd from Greenland in the 1930s.