Nothing ‘Average’ About It

It nearly happened: I nearly described my job as normal – average, even.

I was asked this week what’s going on at the Preserve. For a full second, bills, meetings, tours and more meetings flashed through my mind. For a split second, I thought about e-mails, staffing and growing feed costs … but then I remembered; life is so much more interesting than that.

I think I might talk about the rut a lot, these days, but honestly it is fascinating. For weeks, I have been fortunate to watch front and centre as the behaviour of our animals changes with the weather.

For instance, Columbo, the elder statesman of our elk population, can usually be described as stoic. Anyone who has admired Columbo, the very large stag with incredible antlers residing near the visitor cabin, can attest to his imposing and fairly calming presence.

Over the past several weeks, however, somewhat-incessant pacing has replaced Columbo’s calm demeanour. Weeks of walking, combined with the common practice of not eating during the rut, has caused him to lose some 300 pounds. He has since started eating a bit, but the transition is awesome.

I also got to witness two caribou battling for dominance. Asserting dominance is a critical part of the rut, and at the end of the day, there will be a dominant male. This is very much natural behaviour and we try to let our herds sort it out. But when there is a potential for injury, we intervene, moving an animal until calm returns.

Within our caribou herd, two bulls were unable to come to a conclusion around dominance. To be completely honest, it was obvious who the dominant bull was, but it was taking a very long time for one particular bull to recognize his inferior position. For the safety of both animals, we decided to move the inferior bull before he, or any others, got hurt.

In the midst of the move, one final battle ensued, and for a few brief minutes the caribou went antler to antler. The raw power, the sheer adrenaline, is like nothing I have seen before.

Moments later, the battle was over as quickly as it had begun, and the inferior bull rather easily continued on toward his temporary home. He settled in quickly and immediately began to eat and drink – something he had probably not done peacefully for weeks.

He found calm rather quickly, but I expect it will take me some time to forget those few intense moments.

Oh, and just last week a muskox spit at me – not once, not twice, but maybe every 10 minutes or so for quite a while. I was her focal point while we tried to remove something caught in her guard hairs. And out of protest, she spit at me. Personally, I don’t blame her, but it was interesting to explain as my husband wiped down my coat with a rag, later that evening.

Whatever made me think, even for a second, that there is such a thing as an “average day at the office”?

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]

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