Hudson the muskox was born three months and one week ago, and was immediately rejected by his mother, who ignored him.
He hasn’t had a bad day since.
The keepers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station stepped in and began hand-feeding him, and he was raised with three other young muskox.
Hudson preferred the company of humans – and still does. Especially those who will scratch him under the chin.
“When I went up to Alaska to see the muskox, Hudson would hang out in the barn after the others had gone to their enclosures,” said Shannon Smith, senior biologist with the elephant barn at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. “He would rather be around people than other muskox.”
That was endearing, but Hudson had to fit other criteria, too.
Point Defiance has had a muskox display for 35 years, although it had been reduced in recent months – by natural deaths – to a herd of one.
Mya, a 13-year-old muskox, was alone. Given the opportunity to take one of Alaska’s calves, with the promise of others to come, was a chance the zoo couldn’t pass.
So Hudson, a slightly spoiled young muskox, was crated and flown south by Alaska Airlines on July 28, flying coach. Given his own corral at Point Defiance, he and Mya passed one another with a fence in between them.
“She ignored him and he didn’t show much interest in her,” Smith said. “Hudson is much more active around people.”
Hudson is already something of a celebrity. Visitors who have heard about his arrival gather at his corral and watch him.
Hudson can put on a good show.
At 3:30 p.m. each afternoon, he gets lunch – a gallon bottle of milk and a handful or two of muskox kibble. Drinking his milk takes all of about one minute.
Hudson doesn’t sip.
There were a dozen or more zoo visitors on hand one day last week to watch him guzzle down lunch and ask Smith and other biologists questions about Hudson.
How much does he weigh? One-hundred and 40 pounds, up 10 from the day he arrived. How much will he weigh when full grown? The average adult weighs 680 pounds – and big males can reach 900 pounds.
How fast can he run? About 36 miles an hour.
How soon can he breed? Not until he’s 18 months old.
What does he like to eat besides milk and kibble?
“Like most babies, he’s inquisitive and will try to eat anything he finds,” Smith told the group. “He’s especially fond of clover and dandelions. He ate too many the other day and had an upset stomach.”
How long do muskox live? Between 12 and 20 years, normally. Occasionally, one will reach 25.
When full grown, Hudson will likely stand four to five feet tall at the shoulder and look like and unmade bed on four legs. Muskox grow two layers of hair, an outer level called guard hair and a softer under layer that keeps the animal warm in its home on the tundra.
That under layer of hair, called qiviut, is highly prized as wool and costs as much as $80 an ounce.
Hudson could be a cash cow, but likely won’t be.
His role at Point Defiance is to become father or a new herd of muskox.
In the coming months, the zoo will be getting a four-year-old female in hopes that she and Hudson get along. Initially, the concern is she’s bigger and stronger than he is, but he will gain weight and strength quickly.
“Muskox have been born here before, and we look forward to that again,” Smith said. “It won’t be for awhile, because Hudson won’t be ready to breed for another 15 months. The breeding season is usually early summer and females carry their young for eight months.”
For now, Hudson is it. He seems to sense the job at hand, and approaches visitors at the fence line. He also occasionally charges a large ball in his enclosure and, on warm days, enjoys life in a kiddie pool.
Zoo keepers have already had to begin discipline, however. Hudson likes to nibble at their shirts. He loves to lick sweat off their bare arms and legs.
How do you stop a muskox from doing that?
“You give them a gentle push from the side,” Smith said. “You never push their head from the front. Do that, and they naturally consider it a challenge and push back.”
Muskox are not endangered, but Hudson fills a rare niche among American zoos. Point Defiance is one of only two zoos in the continental U.S. with muskox displays.
The other is Minnesota. Hudson seems quite happy to be in Tacoma.
Why are they called “muskox?”
Hudson would likely consider that a personal question. During mating season, when males are in rut, they emit a musky odor to attract females.
Hudson will have to wait more than a year to prove that. Until then, life will continue to be milk-and-clover-and-scratches-under-the-chin good.