Got unwanted musk oxen? Try bear urine to ward them off

NOME, Alaska — Alaska wildlife officials have turned to an unusual source in efforts to persuade a herd of musk oxen to leave this Bering Sea coastal town for good.

Bear urine.

Some suspect the large shaggy animals are seeking refuge in Nome because of brown bears, Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Tony Gorn told KNOM.

“We routinely, almost daily now, move musk ox. But then they come back,” Gorn said. “So, this is an attempt to maybe put out some type of deterrent to prevent them from coming in so close to town.”

The musk oxen began moving a few weeks ago into Nome, famous for being the finish line for the nearly thousand mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race every March.

Their presence has caused some problems, especially with pets.

In June, two of the musk oxen were run off by a homeowner chasing them with a pickup after the animals tried to ram a dog pen.

Wildlife officials have tried shooting rubber bullets at the musk oxen and setting off fireworks, but the only thing that seems to provide temporary relief is moving them out of town on foot. Then they come back.

Gorn said it may be time to try the bear urine.

The Seward Peninsula’s musk oxen population has declined 13 percent a year, Gorn said. There isn’t a current brown bear population estimate, but he finds the hypothesis compelling.

“Some of the groups, at least, of musk ox are moving close to town because they’re trying to find a bear-free zone. So really the idea is to make it appear like there may be bears in the local area and maybe they would move back out,” Gorn said. “It’s absolutely not tested yet, but it’s worth a try.”

He has placed bear urine in a few small containers where the musk oxen have been problematic to see if that drives them out. However, he’s not sure how well the scent is carrying given Nome’s windy, wet climate.

For anyone wondering where or how one can acquire bear urine, Gorn says: “Well, you can buy it commercially. The Internet’s a wonderful thing.”

The experiment will continue for a while at test sites. In the meantime, he recommends people use chain-link fences and dog kennels to keep their pets safe from the musk oxen.

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