Lesson Learned: Never approach a muskox from the side.
When I look back on the variety of projects in my background, I sometimes think people don’t believe me. Understandably, since how could anyone do so many different things? My only answer is this is what happens when you end up in a magical place that opens up a world of opportunity for those interested. At least it did 35 years ago for me, and many years before for Danny Nowlan.
One project of mine was on behalf of the government and a non-government organization who wanted to take an existing game farm and turn it into a wildlife preserve. So why not right? Who wouldn’t want to take on something so unusual and unique?
The government had purchased the Yukon Game Farm from Danny and Uli Nowlan and wanted to turn it into a Preserve, with great community support. Danny himself is worthy of a book, and there is a book out there called The Pilgrim and the Cowboy by Paul McKay about one part of Danny’s life. I highly recommend you read it, but be prepared, as you may question government and authority agencies upon reading it. Sorry, I am laughing to myself right now, like anyone needs that book to make that leap of faith.
The Game Farm/Wildlife Preserve is like a mini national park with several habitats and ecosystems neatly fitted into a compact space. Danny was a smoke jumper as a young man and from a plane, spotted some land that would become the Yukon Game Farm and eventually the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. With this large parcel of land, we hosted many different species of wildlife, from beavers to elk (large deer for those not in the know) to muskox (scary for those not in the know). Danny was definitely one of the colorful people, larger than life, full of energy and a little bit of trouble. But not for those that knew him.
After the FBI raid, which accused him of crimes he eventually was found not guilty of, he was broke. The government purchase saved the operation and allowed it to be converted to a Preserve which has done some amazing work saving injured and abandoned wildlife, and also providing an excellent forum for education.
Danny started with nothing but a dream and created a sanctuary that covered large, open pastures, steep cliffs, miles of game fence, corrals, a home and breeding facilities. Uli provided the management which complemented Danny’s vision.
Danny was a visionary but not everyone saw this. He was rough, strong and fiercely independent, his fights with authorities are legendary. His soft side, which allowed him to understand and care for the animals, was unique and he knew how to create safe places for all the animals which eventually allowed falcons to mate, nest and rear their young.
My tale of being the point person to convert the Game Farm into a Wildlife Preserve, staff it, and move on to let it run under a volunteer board, absolutely pales in comparison to Danny and his tale. I have wonderful memories and an experience to cherish, with family connections that run deep with the history of the Game Farm and Preserve. My daughter’s fiancé (Boris) was once hired as a kid to babysit a baby beaver rescued by the Nowlan’s and living in their house. Boris’ father, an expert on biology, wild sheep and more, was also a good friend of Danny’s and spent a great deal of time on the land with him. Then there is my son who at 10, would come out with me on weekends to learn how to care for the animals. Feeding elk, stone sheep and muskox was a normal Saturday. Dream life for a mom taking her kid to work, moments all thanks to Danny Nowlan.
I have many fond memories which include working with the Calgary Zoo on policies and I feel good, years later, watching rescued animals rehabilitated at the Preserve. My second favorite memory (behind spending Saturday’s at the Preserve with my son) would be the day I was having lunch with Rebecca (the Office Manager and a third generation outfitter) when we got the call that the caribou got out. Off Rebecca and I went to get the caribou.
How does one ‘get’ the caribou?
Well, that day in the middle of winter with snow thigh deep and nothing more than a winter coat and a walkie talkie, Rebecca and I joined the vet, Maria, to slowly and patiently triangulate and move the caribou herd back into their zone of the Preserve. It worked incredibly well, we covered a lot of ground by foot, with Maria’s husband, propped in a chair (due to a back injury) with binoculars and a walkie talkie to let us know which way to trek through the snow. Exhausted, with the caribou successfully safe again, the three of us floated on air back to the office where we spent hours trying to dry out.
And the muskox, well they can’t see straight on, so when you approach you have to approach dead straight on. If you approach from the side, they will charge. Keep your distance. That applies to all wild animals.