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First musk ox taken in Nome-area hunt as attacks on dogs continue

Jenn RuckelKNOM
Musk oxen graze near the airport in Nome. Matthew Smith / KNOM

A hunter in musk ox-plagued Nome has killed the first musk ox since the Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened a hunt for them in the area on Aug. 1.

Tony Gorn, wildlife biologist for Fish and Game, said the department received a call about an animal in town and alerted the five permit holders in Unit 22(C) that a bull was available for harvest.

“We responded to a musk ox that was close to town, and it was just a unique opportunity — now with the regulation change that we made — for the hunter to harvest this animal,” said Gorn. “The hunter became aware that it was there and went out and got it.”

Gorn did not release the name of the hunter but said the hunter used a shotgun to take the animal -- a mature, lone bull -- in lower Dry Creek. Some Nome residents have attributed much of the recent musk ox aggressiveness seen in Nome to one old bull, but Gorn said this musk ox wasn’t displaying aggressive behavior when it was killed.

Four permit holders are still eligible for a musk ox take until the season closes in mid-March. But Gorn said he’s skeptical about how effective the hunt will be in shifting the distribution of the herd.

“It’s going to be very difficult to identify. With or without hunting, we’ve had musk ox in the Nome area for several years and they come and they go all by themselves,” said Gorn. “It’s going to be very difficult to say we killed one musk ox bull and now our problems are over, or we killed five musk ox bulls and all our problems are over now.”

While the hunt may be an opportunity to eliminate the immediate nuisance if permit holders target specific "problem bulls," Gorn said the true challenge is finding a long-term solution.

“This idea -- and I know there’s a lot of frustrated people in town -- but this idea that Fish and Game can somehow create a musk ox-free zone around Nome -- it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to do,” said Gorn.

Gorn said keeping the herds completely out of Nome means having greater threats in town than they would face in the wild with natural predators like bears and wolves. For now, he said, there’s no overnight fix to the musk ox problem.

Meanwhile, another dog is recovering after being gored by a musk ox, this time on Anvil Mountain. Monica Gomez’s dog Kona is recovering from the attack that came late last week on the iconic Nome hilltop.

Gomez said her children and their friend Taylor McDaniel were taking the dog on a run when the dog ran into the fog. McDaniel said the kids piled into the truck to go looking for their pet.

“About 10 minutes later we heard yelping, and we were just honking, figuring she would come to the truck if she heard it,” said McDaniel. “About five minutes later, she came up to the truck limping with blood coming down her rear thigh.”

Gomez said Kona got 13 stitches and seems to be recovering well. Now, Gomez is urging her children to take extra precautions because the musk oxen have been behaving unpredictably.

This article originally appeared on KNOM Radio Mission, a Nome-based radio station sharing stories from around Western Alaska. It is republished here with permission.