Luke Groskin recently traveled to Alaska and interviewed conservation researcher Joel Berger about his unique method for testing muskoxen behavior: pretending to be their predator.
There’s a muskox hunting season in Alaska, and in the past, more males have been killed than females. If a herd lacks mature males, will that affect their behavior when a predator approaches? Are they more likely to flee and get eaten? If so, Alaska may have to reduce the quota of male muskoxen hunting.
To answer this question, Joel dresses as a grizzly or polar bear and approaches a herd to see its reaction.
Joel Berger and Ellen Cheng, a fellow conservation biologist, prep the grizzly bear suit. Credit: Luke Groskin
Dressed as a fake grizzly bear, Joel Berger approaches muskoxen in social defense formation. Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska. Credit: Joel Berger
Berger approaches an isolated female muskox in a snow hole. Credit: Joel Berger
Female muskoxen use the strength in numbers tactic to ward off dangerous predators, like grizzly bears and, sometimes, polar bears. Credit: Joel Berger
A muskox social group watches Berger dressed as a polar bear before fleeing. Wrangel Island World Heritage Site, Chukota Autonomous Zone, Russia. Credit: Joel Berger
Bear In Mind The Muskox
Berger, in fake polar bear garb, approaches three muskoxen. Wrangel Island World Heritage Site, Chukota Autonomous Zone, Russia. Credit: Joel Berger
Muskoxen look on as Joel Berger releases the head of a polar bear model after a playback experiment. Credit: Joel Berger
Meet the Writer
Daniel Peterschmidt is a digital producer and composes music for Science Friday’s podcasts, including Science Diction and Undiscovered. Their D&D character is a clumsy bard named Chip Chap Chopman.