4 musk oxen in endangered herd illegally killed

Four musk oxen in a dwindling North Slope herd were killed illegally over the weekend, say Alaska wildlife troopers. The Arctic Sounder and KBRW in Barrow report that the animals were killed on the Alpine oil field, where subsistence users have complained that musk oxen might be interfering with caribou hunting.

From The Sounder:

"It's an unfortunate [case] just because that's a stock of concern," says Trooper Dan Dahl, the case's lead investigator. "They've been trying to get the numbers of those musk ox up for quite a few years now. They've been trying to figure out why that stock is down in numbers. So to lose some from that -- and one was a collared musk ox that had been harvested -- it really hurts the stock, especially when they're trying to get them healthy."

Dahl says there are suspects in the investigation and he's contacted them.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game research biologist Steve Arthur says the number of musk oxen in this specific herd peaked in the mid-1990s at around 650 animals. Now, it's less than a third of that.

"They've reached a point now where there's fewer than 200 muskoxen in this part of Alaska, and the numbers are getting small enough where every individual animal becomes that much more important," he said.

Read more at The Arctic Sounder.