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Dress like a polar bear: learning to love muskoxen at 15 below zero

25 / 09 / 2018, Mongabaycom News

Biologist Joel Berger gives his polar bear head a toss, a technique practiced when he gets too close to a muskoxen herd in his bear disguise, and an adult male lowers horns and charges. The suddenly headless bear confuses the male, causing it to stop and return to the herd. Image by Joel Berger. Joel Berger is used to life on the edge. For nearly four decades, the conservation biologist has traveled to some of the world’s coldest, most desolate places, including northernmost North America, the Himalayas, Mongolia and the Tibetan Plateau, where he’s studied long-haired muskoxen, and come face to face with wild takin, huemal, and the endangered saiga — the world’s northernmost antelope threatened with extinction by the cashmere industry. In his new book Extreme Conservation, Berger shares personal dispatches occurring in inhospitable environments (think freezing in a tent, under two sleeping bags in the Himalayas), and relates outlandish research methodologies (think dressing up as a bear, and reaching up the anus of a muskox — though not at the same time). Along the way he meets, works with, and learns from Inuit hunters and Mongolian yak herders who share their stories of living alongside incredible, yet vulnerable, biodiversity. (Among lessons learned: it can be frustrating when a snow leopard kills the yak you’re studying.) Muskoxen closeup. Berger gave up stalking these remote Northern animals via helicopter, as it was too disruptive and sometimes harmful to the animals. Instead, he approached them dressed as a predator polar bear…

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