Muskoxen are icons. They come from the past. They lived together with mammoths and direwolves, and they’re still here with their furry prehistoric look, while the others have vanished. They are survivors. The Artic is their frozen home of ice and snow. Today their natural range is confined to Greenland and northern Canada, but they have been (re)introduced in Europe and Asia as well. Dovrefjell NP, in Norway, is one of these places. Here, they have been introduced repeatedly, until a group of 13 calves from Greenland eventually started a population in the ‘50s, which is still roaming around the mountains of the park. Today, around 350 individuals live in an area of 340 square kilometers. The herds have faced disease outbreaks in the past, hence number fluctuations, but overcame them all.
However, this area is just at the southern edge of the Artic region and here muskoxen are forced to live in a milder climate than other populations. Actually, disease outbreaks have been related with heat waves and other extreme weather events, which may become more frequent due to the effects of climate change. Habitat and food availability may also be altered by climate change over the very next future. We still don’t know if the muskoxen will be resilient enough to the threats that climate change poses. Dovrefjell’s muskoxen are a small population confined in a relatively small area at the edge of the thermal tolerance for the species. As underlined by the many researchers who are monitoring them, they are sentinels in a climate outpost. At the very least, they will play the canary in a coal mine for the others.