01.11.2019



ICE AGE





Musk Oxen are popular right now, I have lots of images of them on my website. They feature in a sequence I filmed for the new BBC Landmark series Seven Worlds- One Planet. I have filmed them in Norway three times this year alone. It seems like everybody wants to film them, and it also means that there will be a massive influx of photographers wanting to capture images of them in the mountains, doing their thing. If you are one of those photographers then please pay heed to the following, please.





There is a lot of rot talked about muskoxen in Norway , especially about muskoxen behaviour and this goes towards how wildlife photographers behave around them. I say wildlife photographers rather than cinematographers simply because I have never met another cinematographer whilst I have been in the field filming them. And because for every wildlife cinematographer there are probably a few thousand photographers.


Musk oxen are considered to be fairly peaceful and for the most part this is true. There are however exceptions and in the ten or so years I have been filming musk oxen I have seen some real stupidity. Last year I watched a ‘professional’ wildlife photographer who was for some obscure reason using an iPad to take his professional photographs. As if that was not cause enough for alarm he was laying down on the ground some 10 meters away form a group of musk oxen females that had crowded together in a defence ring to protect their calves. It was a miracle that he wasn’t nailed. When myself and my very experienced guide managed to speak to him he assured us that it wasn’t dangerous as they were cows and that it was the bulls that were dangerous.


I have never been chased by a bull musk ox, the only time I have ever been chased was by a cow. The people I know that have been chased have also been chased by cows. Bulls are big, they know they are big and generally don’t give a hoot about us humans unless seriously provoked. They are interested in other bulls, cows and eating lots of willow. That said, seriously provoking a big bull might mean as little as getting too close to it, so don't go close to the musk oxen. Cows on the other hand can be very tetchy. Like most mammals they are very protective of their young and quite rightly so, if you get too close they will not like it. They are not as big as bulls but are still huge, and have very sharp horns.


Here are some rules to follow if you are inspired to take photographs of musk oxen in Norway.

1. Go with an experienced guide or guiding company, they will take you safely in and safely out. They will also know where the animals are and I guarantee that you will get better photographs then if you try to go it alone. They are your second pair of eyes, they see the musk oxen in front of your, they know if something exciting is going to kick off… and they also see the small group of cows moving in from the side.

2. Do not go too close to the animals, listen to your guide. The prescribed distance is 200 meters max. That is not optimal for photography but there is a very good reason for it. Muskoxen can run much faster than you, much much faster. In the snow they float over the surface, you will trip over tussocks or your snowshoes.

3. If you decide to ignore the advice of going with a guide and to hike in alone then here are a couple of pointers. 4. If a muskoxen snorts at you that is your first and only warning to move away, they don’t snort the second time. If you are close enough to hear them snort then you are probably too close.

5. Give the animals their space, don’t approach them in dense scrub.

6. If the animals move away, don’t chase after them, give them time to settle and then try again or better still find another group. Chasing them just pushes them away, its stresses the animals and spoils it for everybody. You might also push them towards other photographers or walkers, that’s dangerous as well.

7. Don’t try to get wide and close pictures of muskoxen, it will end in tears.

8. Don’t dress up in a ghillie suit, camouflage or any of that nonsense. The musk oxen can still see you.

9. Stay away from the reindeer. If you see them from a distance consider yourself very lucky and leave it at that. 10. Regardless of whether you are camping, walking, photographing or all three. Take your crap out with you, there are no rubbish fairies in the mountains and your actual turd will be there come the thaw.


This is by no mean exhaustive and its certainly not prescriptive. Remember that they are wild animals and that the mountains are a hostile environment so go in with that in mind. And go with a guide.