Anticipation is the only word to describe spring at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. There is anticipation for our school programs, anticipation for the summer season and, of course, the anticipation of babies.
Babies consume us throughout May and June. Staff remains on standby – watching, waiting to see what babies will come. When will the first be born? Will the birth go OK? Will the baby be male or female? Will the mother accept it? Repeat …
The night this year’s first baby arrived, I was there.
It was late in the evening and we were driving through the preserve checking on everything. Pulling up to the pasture of female muskoxen, a young muskox caught my attention and we stopped.
I could have just as easily left at that point – the late day sun was fading, the temperature was dropping and the yearling whose antics had captured my attention stood perfectly still.
But the tiniest movement on the horizon caught our eye just as we turned to leave. We stood, staring, squinting when this tiny black creature began taking its first few wobbly steps.
The birth of that baby muskox was just the beginning. Soon there were three muskoxen to admire, followed in rapid succession by bison, elk, mountain goats and, most recently, mule deer.
Sitting at my desk, focused on the task at hand, a brief call over the radio that a baby has arrived takes precedence every time. Within minutes, staff and visitors from across the preserve can be found huddled, peering to see our latest arrival – their faces full of pride and sheer fascination.
Those first few minutes following birth are relatively similar between species, with a few quiet Moments to bond while cleaning and feeding. What follows, however, varies dramatically and offers some incredible insight for those of us watching from the outside.
Minutes following the birth of an elk, the entire herd congregates, as if to say, Hi, welcome to the family. On the contrary, a mountain goat mother will keep her babies in safe solitude, joining the rest of the herd only to eat before separating again.
A muskoxen baby will stay at its mother’s side when she rather quickly returns to the herd with baby in tow. But, within days, each Mom takes her turn overseeing all of the babies, giving the other Moms time to eat and, at least in my mind, rejuvenate.
Similarly, one day our baby bison spent a long time following what I assumed was her mother, only to dart away, toward another cow, for feeding, Moments later.
Unlike the baby bison, a baby elk meets the herd only briefly before being hidden by its Mom. It will remain hidden for about two weeks, resurfacing noticeably bigger and taller.
Similarly, catching a glimpse of a baby mule deer is a rare treat with only a few short minutes before they are hidden away for safekeeping. I haven’t seen one yet, but the radio has announced a possible addition, so I’m off to try again.
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]