European wildlife: Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) ramming, Dovrefjell National Park, Norway.
The images below show two muskoxen ramming. The ritual typically starts with the animals swaying their heads from side to side. This is the signal to prepare for a fight. The animals then walk backwards (about 10-15 meters each) while continuing to sway their heads. When they stop walking backwards they also stop swaying their heads. After a brief pause they charge towards each other, gaining speed along the way. The sequence ends with ramming each other on the head, exactly on the horns. Afterwards they stand there for a while, perhaps a bit dazed by the impact. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game the impact is similar to that of a vehicle hitting a concrete wall at 17 mi/h (27 km/h). The horn and thick skull provide protection against the impact.
I photographed the running animals at about 1/160-1/200 seconds and panned the camera along with the animal that is running towards the right. This allowed for some motion blur while also keeping some sharpness in the image. Interestingly, the animal lifts its front feet just before the impact. This may allow the animal to ram its opponent with even greater force. At this moment its opponent has just entered the frame. The opponent is particularly blurred because I am panning the camera in the opposite direction to keep track with the first animal. The moment of impact shows how precise the animals are with ramming each other exactly on the horns. My wife commented how it seems that the fur of the animals is smooth at the moment of impact, potentially because of the shock wave.
Click here to view more images of muskoxen.
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