The Story Of Wild Animals:
Prong-buck Or American Antelope
Indian Black Buck
Story Of The Rhinoceros
Story Of The Musk-ox
Story Of The Giraffe
Story Of The Fox
Story Of The Seal
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Story Of The Musk Ox
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
As every school boy knows, the toad has a remarkable power of expansion, which is used in time of danger to terrify the enemy. This is done by inflation and probably does deter the small snake from attempting to swallow the enlarged toad. The musk-ox has a similar habit of showing his ugly head lowered as though about to charge whenever he scents danger, but the instant he is attacked he seeks safety in flight. The animal is found only in Arctic America and exhales a strong musky odor at certain seasons of the year. It is a heavy-built, but not large creature with short legs, and a very lengthy brown hairy-coat, which almost reaches to the ground. Its horns are very similar in form to those of the Cape buffalo, and in the bulls they meet in the middle line of the forehead. The tail is very short, being entirely hidden by the fur of the haunches.
The musk-ox herd together in bands, and generally frequent barren grounds during the summer months, keeping near the rivers, but retire to the woods in winter. They seem to be less watchful than most other wild animals, and when grazing are not difficult to approach, provided the hunters go against the wind. When two or three men get so near a herd as to fire at them from different points, these animals, instead of separating or running away, huddle closer together, and several are generally killed. The musk-ox feed on the same substances as the reindeer; and the prints of the feet of these two animals are so much alike, that it requires the eye of an experienced hunter to distinguish them.
The musk-ox is about two-thirds the size of the American bison, but from its long coat of hair looks larger than it really is. In appearance the animal has been compared to a large hairy ram; and it resembles the sheep in the marked convexity of the profile of the face and the hairy muzzle.
The musk-ox feeds on grass and moss during one part of the year, and on lichens during the other part. Notwithstanding the shortness of its limbs, it gallops with great speed, and the facility with which it climbs mountains can only be compared to that of goats.
Occasionally the Esquimaux undertake an expedition into the interior for the purpose of hunting the musk-ox for the sake of its warm fur, which is used either or their own bedding, or as an article of barter. The animals are hunted by means of dogs, each hunter taking two or three of these animals with their sledge-traces attached, and thus allowing himself to be pulled along till within a short distance of the quarry. The difficulty is then to slip the dogs at the right moment without allowing their traces to drag behind them, and thus be liable to be trodden on by the bayed musk-oxen; but clever hunters obviate this by tying the traces in a bundle on the backs of the dogs just before they are slipped. When bayed and surrounded, the memhers of the herd are shot down by the score, the great object being to kill each animal outright, as otherwise there is great danger of its struggles inducing a stampede among the herd, which would involve another hunt. Sometimes, however, the herd, even after having made a belt, will return to the spot where their comrades have fallen. When scenting danger, the musk-oxen always retreat to some elevation near by, and upon the approach of the enemy they form in a perfect line, their heads toward their foe; or, if attacked at more than one point, they form a circle, their glaring, blood-shot eyes restlessly watching the attack; and I think it would go hard with the man or beast who, under such circumstances, might come within reach of their broad horns or hard hoofs.
One of them the oldest of the herd places himself in front, like a general at the head of his army, and advances cautiously to reconnoitre the enemy, watching attentively each least movement on the part of the hunters. This survey being accomplished, he retires to his post, and awaits the attack. Then it is that this animal appears in all his majestic beauty, and. when the hunter finds himself for the first time in his presence, he must muster up his courage and strengthen his nerves.
But, although seemingly so terrible, these animals, either stupid or over-confident in their strength, allow the hunters to approach within a short distance, and then, at the first gunshot, the whole herd takes flight, abandoning the dead and the wounded. I have often seen five or six hunters destroy a herd of a score of them. On one occasion only have I seen one of these animals charge; it is true that the poor beast had twelve balls in his body, and, being unable to fly, he defended himself to the last moment.
Another time I found them of a different temper. Singling one of the herd, I sent three bullets into him, but the ox, instead of flight, turned on me, followed by the herd, and I owed my safety entirely to a large fragment of rock, behind which I took refuge, the animal's head coming in contact with it with a force so prodigious that he was actually thrown upon his haunches.