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One Picture

Photographer: Vincent Munier
Subject: Female Muskox
Where: Dovrefjell, Norway
When: 2006
Camera: Nikon D2X
Lens: 600mm AFS
Exposure: 1/500 second; f/4; ISO 200

Strong as a Muskox
Despite the icy veil billowing around its head, or the snow caking its snout like drying plaster, this hirsute hunchback is well adapted to the extreme winter weather on a high plateau in Dovrefjell, a mountainous region in Norway where photographer Vincent Munier spotted it.

Muskoxen have changed little since their ancestors crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to North America about 150,000 years ago. (They had died out in Norway but were reintroduced in the 20th century.) The species’ coat is double-ply; long, shaggy guard hair repels precipitation and shields a durable underfur called quiviut. Finer than cashmere, quiviut is stronger and eight times warmer than sheep’s wool. It helps keep the animal’s internal temperature at about 100 degrees even when the mercury plummets to minus 50 degrees outside. Muskoxen’s stocky bodies—males can weigh up to 1,000 pounds—also minimize heat loss. Using their cloven hooves, the ungulates graze sparingly during the winter through shallow, windswept snow.

Creatures that survive harsh conditions awe Munier, who aspires to draw out his subjects’ essence by photographing them in raw nature. On the February day he shot the image above, Munier spent several hours in minus-40-degree air and was forced into a fetal position by a gale whipping at 116 miles per hour. Overall, he tracked this female’s herd for 10 days, pulling a sled and camping in a tent. The snowstorm pictured here was the one he had been waiting for. “I knew that the moment was strong,” says Munier. So, apparently, was he.—Julie Leibach

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