The musk ox is a stocky long-haired animal with a slight shoulder hump and a very short tail. Despite their name, musk oxen have no musk glands and are not oxen. The largest member of the sheep family, this shaggy prehistoric-looking creature was abundant in the North Country until it was hunted into extinction by the mid-1800s.
In the 1930s, several dozen musk oxen were transplanted from Greenland to Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea. Like the elk on Afognak , the musk oxen on Nunivak thrived, and the resident Native Alaskans used the soft underwool to establish a small cottage industry knitting sweaters, scarves, and caps. And that’s what it would have remained, a small cottage industry, if it hadn’t been for Dr. John J. Teal, Jr., a student of Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson.
Stefansson recognized the potential of musk ox wool and inspired Teal to experiment with domesticating them. After spending 10 years with musk oxen on his farm in Vermont, Teal concluded that they were amiable, hardy, and easy to domesticate. So in 1964 he started the Musk Ox Project at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks .
In 1984 the project moved to a farm in the Matanuska Valley , where musk oxen are bred to produce qiviut (KEE-vee-oot), the soft underwool, which is renowned in Alaska  for its insulation (eight times warmer by weight than sheep wool) and tactile (softer than the finest cashmere) properties. The qiviut is collected from the animals in the spring. The raw wool is sent to a mill in Rhode Island and then sold to Oomingmak (a Native Alaskan word for musk ox, meaning “bearded one”; www.qiviut.com ), a co-op consisting of members in villages spread throughout western Alaska. Here the qiviut is knitted into garments, which are sold at retail outlets in Anchorage  and at the farm near Palmer .
Today, wild musk oxen can be found on the Seward Peninsula near Nome, Nunivak and Nelson islands, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the North Slope near Prudhoe Bay, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The best places to see them up close are the Musk-Ox Farm in Palmer  and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station .