Friday, June 10, 2011

What About Bob?

Bob's a muskox (right) here at the University of Alaska's LARS (The Large Animal Research Station) at Fairbanks.

And he just head-butted his buddy. WHAM! Because the two of them want to eat the same pile of grain. So they whack each others heads. Well, really horns. They stand 10 or so feet apart, issue guttural snorts, race toward each other and WHAM, head-butt (an AWFUL sound, like the crack of a dozen baseball bats, only deeper, more resonant).

After the smash up, Bob wobbles over to the fence and stares at me, looking sort of woozy. He tilts his hairy ol' head sideways, looks at me, and bobbles, like his brains got scrambled.

I wonder, will he die? His eyes begin to glaze.

And then I hear the WHAM again. Only this time, it's not Bob (he's recovered and gone back to eating). This time,  another 800-pound muskox refuses to share. And instead of just saying no, he gets violent.

Just like Bob. Who's at it again. A bigger brute ambles near Bob's grain and ROAR! Bob deafens me with a sound I've never heard, a mix of vocalizations -- maybe  giraffe, lion and elephant. (Our guide later tells us she thinks Spielberg used that sound for a dinosaur in "Jurassic Park.")

Bob's bluster works. The other guy tottles off (they walk slowly), and Bob looks back at me. His head bobbing and tilting.

All this happens while we wait for our guide to begin our 2 p.m. tour. She tells us to wait by the pasture, where Bob and the other seven food hogs line up by the fence because it's treat time. Each day they get fortified grain to supplement their grazing. To keep them healthy. So scientists from all over the world can study them.

It's this treat these boys bullishly protect.

And whenever Bob's involved, he wins. He roars, snorts and head-butts. And he comes over to me and gives me that Jack Sparrow woozy look, with his head bobbing and weaving. Like he's on his way out. Fast.

So when our tour begins, I ask, "What about Bob?"

Well, the tour guide says, Bob's unusual. Because while he's the smallest muskox out there, he's the meanest, the Alpha. And all that bobble-head stuff?

He's not hurting, he's bragging. To me. He's hitting on me the muskox way, by showing his power, his strength, his tough-guy status.

Well, I'm impressed.

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