My husband moved to Whitehorse for Jesse … I like to think it was for me, but it wasn’t. Her beautiful black hair, her obvious excitement to see him and her playful demeanour – I cannot compete.
Lucky for me, Jesse is a muskox and, despite Mike’s secret wish, she will never become a companion for our dog.
The Preserve’s magic is access to animals living in their near-natural environment, behaving much as they would in the wild. Staff tries to interact as little as possible, and most animals onsite remain nameless, referenced only by their features, age, markings or tag colour.
In the case of rescued animals, however, they frequently arrive with a name and a story. Chloe, the moose from Haines Junction; Geronimo, a mountain goat from northern British Columbia; Bou, a caribou from the Chisana Caribou Project, and Chance, a muskox from Nunavut who captured many hearts before succumbing to liver failure.
Different from most rescues, Jesse was born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and was named after a volunteer. Jesse’s Mom was a young, first-time mom who gave birth and walked away. Staff watched and waited, eventually collecting the young muskox.
Imprinting, described by Encyclopedia Britannica as “a form of learning in which a very young animal fixes its attention on the first object with which it has visual, auditory, or tactile experience and thereafter follows that object”, is inevitable and a critical factor in ensuring that a baby eats.
Jesse, it seems, imprinted twice.
There is an undeniable affection toward staff veterinarian Maria, who is considered “Mom”. Additionally, muskox are followers who survive by following the herd. Jesse can be seen mimicking a muskox running beside its mother whenever the Preserve’s beat-up Land Cruiser is around. Ever-present during early feedings, this vehicle is her herd.
A muskox, however, will always be a muskox, and Jesse is growing very quickly.
As staff and volunteers, allowing an animal to live as it would in nature is top priority, no matter how tempting it might be to think of them like pets. In June of this year, Jesse rejoined the herd and now shares a pasture with the other cows (female muskoxen), yearlings and babies.
For staff, the experience was like sending a kid to university. You want your baby to be liked, and since muskoxen are notoriously tight-knit and not always welcoming, I won’t lie, there was some anxiety.
Second is the challenge of just letting go. Rescue animals receive a lot of human affection as babies, and as they grow and continue trying to reciprocate, we have to stand firm – and far enough away.
More than a month in, the transition has gone extremely well. While it will take as much as a year for Jesse to become a true member of the herd, she is living peacefully amongst the other muskoxen and even plays with the yearlings.
She is picking up mannerisms from the muskoxen around her, and frequently ignores humans – and the Land Cruiser – near the fence.
Now, how to break it to Mike …
Krista Prochazka loved the Yukon Wildlife Preserve so much that she made her family move to the Yukon to become executive director of the preserve. Contact her at [email protected]