Wild and wooly in the North

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Polar Star

Not everything in Alaska is boom or bust. A pipeline may remove millions of barrels of oil each day, but a full-grown musk ox on the UA farm still produces only five to six pounds of wool, or qiviut, each year.

In 1964 John Teal, a human ecologist from Vermont, came to Alaska to create a cottage industry in rural Alaskan villages and market the qiviut products throughout the state and nation.

Qiviut has been called a cross between angora and wool, but doesn’t have the drawbacks of either. The knitted scarves and accessories are soft and strong and are much sought-after.

With musk oxen from Nunivak Island and a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Teal established a 130-acre farm on Yankovich Road, behind the University. The farm’s goal is to supply sub-stations in villages in coastal and tundra Alaska with the animals. The villagers will then herd the musk oxen, collect the qiviut and knit the valuable wool.

Musk oxen are indigenous to Alaska but the onslaught of man killed them off in the 1860’s. In 1927 they were reintroduced into Alaska from Greenland stocks. The 30 imported musk oxen were to come to the University but money ran out and they were released on Nunivak Island.

By 1964 they had multiplied into a herd of nearly 700 animals. at that time an expedition headed by Teal captured 34 musk oxen and brought them back. Since then the UA herd has increased to nearly 150 animals.

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