Chasing musk oxen: how to capitalise on the Pleistocene inhabitants of the Arctic
Photos, safaris and a bit of hunting23 june 2023
Developing tourism in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation is one of the priority ways of creating a new polar economy. However, for the entrepreneur, investor and tourist, the question always arises—what, in fact, is there to see on your tundra? At least for the musk ox, the inhabitants of Taimyr, Yakutia, Chukotka, Magadan and Yamal, who for several years now have been actively developing tourism business with the horned and furry inhabitants of the Polar region, will answer.
How the musk ox became part of the landscape again
The story of the musk ox in the Russian Arctic is itself a successful case study in restoring lost biodiversity. Almost completely extinct by the early 20th century, these animals have survived only in Canada and Greenland, where they have been placed under government protection. In the 1970s, it was possible to 'import' several groups of animals to Wrangel Island and the Taimyr, where scientists set about breeding them and gradually returning them to the ecosystem.
Today, there are several populations of musk oxen, the largest of which inhabits the Taimyr Peninsula. As the animals have spread out over a huge expanse of tundra, it is impossible to estimate their numbers accurately. Specialists agree on a population size of about 10,000 animals, and regular expeditions are conducted to monitor the population's growth dynamics.
The situation of musk oxen in the AZRF constituent entities is not homogeneous. In Yakutia, the animal has red-listed status and is protected to the fullest extent of Russian legislation, while hunting is allowed in the Taimyr. However, the quota for harvesting musk oxen is small, just 20 animals a year between 1 August and 30 November.
Musk ox for tourists
The first and most budget-friendly is a tourist trip to a PA for a few days. Guests travel on comfortable snowmobiles that become a mobile base for the entire tour. Tourists are most often taken to breeding areas where musk oxen are kept in semi-free herding. The convenient format allows for a trip to the tundra not only in comfort and safety but also in time savings. Of course, a tour that includes air travel would cost a pretty penny, but cross-country expeditions start at RUB 15,000 per person.
The second, classic format is a multi-day expedition in pursuit of photographs of rare animals in their natural habitat. This journey requires both good equipment and preparation, as well as a significant financial investment. A single tour can cost several hundred thousand roubles per person. The programme often includes accommodation at an indigenous people's camp, where tourists are taught how to harness reindeer, are fed local food and indulge in local folklore. Some operators organise real safaris with animal tracking, while others prefer radial trips by snowmobile or sledge from their permanent campsite.
The third format does not quite fit the conventional idea of 'ecotourism' and is more of a one-off product than a mass offering. This is a hunting for musk oxen on the Taimyr Peninsula. On average, hunters harvest only 6–10 animals out of the 20 allowed per year, not least of which the cost of the licence is a limiting factor. The hunt alone will cost more than half a million roubles. However, there are a number of companies that have been offering this product for several years, and they seem to be finding their customers.
The development of the tourism sector targeting Pleistocene animals has been successful to date. In 2022, the Polar-Ural Nature Park has announced a large-scale landscaping project, and this summer, the first dozen bison will be brought to the Yakutian Pleistocene Park, which will be a new round in the experiment to restore the ancient fauna of the Polar region. Together with the active work of regional and federal governmental authorities to improve the management and operation of PAs in the country, the prospects for the growing popularity of Arctic ecotourism are well-founded.
This, in particular, was noted by Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Government, during a meeting at the strategic session on the development of the North Sea Route. According to him, the Far North welcomes about 1.5 mn tourists annually, which is a significant driver of regional development.
'After all, the hospitality sector has one of the highest multipliers for the economy. It creates jobs in particular,' said the prime minister.
The largest of such projects is the development of the Syradasay coal deposit.Culture
The Korotchaevo – Novy Urengoy railroad section is part of the Northern Latitudinal Railway project.Yamal
Aleksey Chekunkov, head of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, said that the ministry considers one of the important results of the plan's implementation to be the involvement of the population, not only military personnel, which is important for better integration of families' life together.Economy