What does it take to reunite a newborn muskox with its herd?
A drone, some snowmobiles and the combined efforts of a number of individuals and agencies pulling together to “do the right thing,” apparently.
That, according to De Beers Canada spokesperson Tom Ormsby, is what went into the recent reunification of a baby muskox – found alone and adorably defenceless at the company’s Gahcho Kué mine site on May 5 – with its family.
Workers at the diamond mine, located 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, made the surprise discovery of the helpless newborn while doing maintenance work on a water line, Ormsby told Yellowknifer.
The newborn animal’s umbilical cord was still intact and it was no bigger than a small dog, he said.
As reported last week by CKLB, the employees immediately contacted the mine’s environmental unit, which then reached out to the territory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR). But the discovery, made on a Sunday, meant no one from the department could advise the unit on what to do next.
The team, forced to abandon its reunification efforts until the next day, used a drone to locate a small herd of muskox, including adults and young calves, a few kilometres away from where the newborn was found.
On May 6, under the guidance of ENR, De Beers’ environmental team bundled up the baby muskox, placed it on a snow machine and brought it to the herd, which had travelled some 10 kilometres from its original location.
The team was advised to place the muskox near the herd before backing away.
The first reunification attempt didn’t go so well.
After leaving the baby muskox about 25 metres away from the other animals in the hopes of sparking a joyous family reunion, the herd “showed no response,” and the calf started walking back to the team members, said Ormsby.
The second attempt also proved unsuccessful but on the third effort “it all worked out,” he said.
“One of the adults moved towards the calf … and nuzzled up against the calf and started licking it,” he said.
At that moment, the team knew the lost newborn had been accepted back into the herd.
“They were all really excited,” said Ormsby of the employees, who saw their efforts pay off with a “happy ending.”
A happy ending, he said, that was made possible through proper training, quick thinking and the concerted efforts of all those involved.
“Reuniting a calf with a herd is something I’m pretty sure we never practised,” said Ormsby. “But to be able to get that coordinated, have everybody in the loop, everyone aligned on what to do – that’s really important.”
Workers often log sightings of wildlife near the mine, but to have an encounter that close to the site is rare, added Ormsby. Despite the unusual scenario, he said, the workers who made the initial discovery knew exactly what to do.
“Their first reaction was ‘let’s get the right people here to make this work,’ so that was terrific,” he said.
The employees’ desire to help the muskox shows a they have “respect for the land,” he added.
“They get it,” said Ormsby.
“We know we are guests on the land,” he said. “We know we need to get guidance from those who have the authority to permit the mine and let us run a mine.”