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15 Facts About Norway’s Mighty Musk Ox

Home » Living in Norway » 15 Facts About Norway’s Mighty Musk Ox

These magnificent creatures are a big attraction in central Norway's Dovre mountains. Find out more about the musk oxen of Norway.

Dovrefjell is known in Norway as the southernmost home of wild reindeer. But it's also home to an imported population of musk oxen, especially to the west of the E6.

Musk Ox in the Norwegian winter

Native to the planet's Arctic region, the musk ox is known for its bulky build, thick fur and strong odour. Here are some fascinating facts about the musk ox.

The history of the musk ox

1. The musk ox is a truly historic mammal. It is one of the oldest mammals to walk our planet. They used to live in what is now Norway in great numbers around 20,000 years ago.

2. The musk ox was reintroduced to Norway. It was reintroduced to Norway from Canada's Banks Island in 1932 following an unsuccessful attempt near Ålesund a decade before.

3. An attempt to introduce the musk ox to Svalbard failed. The Arctic archipelago sustains some remarkable winter wildlife. Attempts to introduce musk ox to Svalbard in 1929 initially succeeded, but the herd disappeared in the 1970s.

Norwegian musk ox in the autumn tundra of Norway.

4. The musk ox was hunted to extinction. During the second world war, the musk ox became extinct due to hunting. It was reintroduced to Norway in 1947.

5. Norwegian musk ox migrated to Sweden. Some of the musk ox introduced to Norway's Dovrefjell found their way to Sweden in 1971 and established themselves there.

Characteristics of the musk ox

6. Musk oxen are as heavy as they look. A fully grown adult musk ox can weigh as much as 450 kilograms.

7. The musk ox is a peaceful animal, but caution is required. They will attack humans when they feel threatened, with such attacks potentially lethal. It is recommended to keep a safe distance of at least 200 meters in the wild.

Two musk ox in the winter in the central Norway mountains.

8. They live for up to 20 years. In the wild, a musk ox can expect to live for approximately 12-20 years. Its long, shaggy hair helps see it through the harsh winters, while the herd works together to defend from wolves, the main predator.

9. Musk oxen are faster than humans. They may look big and bulky, but an attacking musk ox will catch you. Can you move from 0 to 40mph in one second? They can!

10 Musk oxen live in herds. The herds typically number 15-20, which can be slightly smaller in the winter. There is an age-based hierarchy among both males and females.

11. Their closest relatives may surprise you. As a member of the subfamily Caprinae of the family Bovidae, muskoxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than to other oxen.

A musk ox up-close

Musk oxen in Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park

12. There is a musk ox trail in the Dovre mountains. To encourage tourism while protecting the species, a musk ox trail was opened in Dovrefjell in 2017. Trails of 4.5km or 15km start from Kongsvoll or Grønbakken.

13. The musk ox trail helps to protect reindeer. By staying on the trail, you help to protect Dovre's wild reindeer protection. The trail helps to reduce the number of hikers into Stroplsjødalen, which is a migration route for wild reindeer.

14. You can join a musk ox safari. Guided tours not only increase your safety, they also increase your chances of seeing a musk ox. Experience guides know the herds and their locations. Just be aware that a lot of walking is involved!

15. They can be seen from the train, sometimes! The Oslo to Trondheim railway passes through the Dovre mountains. From the train, it's sometimes possible to see musk oxen. The train conductor will sometimes make an announcement if any are visible.

Have you ever seen one of Norway's musk oxen? Let us know in the comments below.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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