Muskoxen are prehistoric-looking animals with long coats that skim the ground and horns that curl toward their faces. They don’t just look prehistoric: it is believed that the ancestor of the muskoxen migrated to North America between 200,000 and 90,000 years ago. The underhair of muskoxen is called qiviut, and it is softer than cashmere. Muskoxen living in captivity (there are about 150 between several research centers in Alaska) are groomed for this prized underhair. In numerous Alaska Native villages, women knit the qivuit into scarves, hats and other crafts that are warm, soft and water-resistant. Each village has a particular pattern, and these items are highly prized. A cooperative of qivuit knitters in Anchorage called the Oomingmak Cooperative sells hand-crafted items from a small retail shop, or you can find qivuit items in a number of other gift shops statewide.
Where to find them:
There are about 2,200 muskoxen in Alaska, and they are found in very specific places: 500 on Nunivak Island; 220 on Nelson Island; 630 in the Far North; 700 on the Seward Peninsula; 150 on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. In the summer, they gravitate toward river valleys to feast on sedges and grass, and in the winter they move to higher ground to avoid deep snow.
When to come:
Muskoxen can be found all year long in those specific areas. They are usually found in herds, and with their long coats, appear to be hunkering down in the cold wind and snow.