A new exhibit at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center will make its official debut at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6:30pm on Tuesday, February 28.
The new display, located at the west end of Hickory Knolls’ lobby, has as its centerpiece a bull musk ox surrounded by terrain typical of the end of Illinois’s last Ice Age. Interpretive signs tell the story of change as a constant in our region’s past, and how plants and animals that are familiar to us today were vital then too, according to Pam Otto, Manager of Nature Programs and Interpretive Services.
“A lot of people recognize extinct megafauna like mastodons and saber-toothed ‘tigers’, or Smilodon, but few folks realize that many other species still alive today were present in Illinois back then, she adds. “Some, like black bears, still live close by. Others, like musk oxen, traveled much farther north.”
Animals are dynamic and always an attraction, Otto says, but visitors will learn that many familiar plants date back to the Pleistocene, or last Ice Age, too. The pods of Kentucky coffee and honey locust trees, as well as the distinctive fruit of the osage orange tree were attractive food sources for Pleistocene herbivores.
The fact that pieces of Clovis points, some of the earliest known stone hunting points, were once found in the vicinity of Hickory Knolls also receives mention in the display. Local flintknapper Bill Alar created and donated replicas of these important tools for use on an interpretive panel.
The exhibit was created by Geneva-based Angrypop Exhibit Services, LLC and Acme Design Inc. in Elgin. While scenes of receding snow and mud flats simulate Ice Age Illinois, the focal point of the exhibit is the preserved musk ox, donated to the park district by St. Charles residents, Dennis and Mary Mueller.
The Muellers acquired the animal from Mary Mueller’s late brother, Dick Orban, of Kankakee. Orban, an experienced hunter and lifelong conservationist, was the sole hunter on a trip to the Arctic in November, 1991. Tracking a herd of musk ox through frigid, minus-30-degree temperatures accompanied by his Inuit Indian guide, Olie, Orban set his sights on an older alpha male.
“The oldest bull was selected for harvest because his absence from the group would allow the younger bull-in-waiting to diversify the herd’s bloodline and help ensure the group’s healthy survival,” said Orban’s sister, Mary Mueller. The meat from the kill was dressed out and provided to a local Inuit village, said Mueller. “It should be noted that nothing went to waste.”
Such foresight was a prime example of Orban’s dedication to the principles of conservation, a cause that he also championed through his work establishing local chapters of “Pheasants Forever” and Ducks Unlimited.”
“Nothing would make Dick prouder than to know the animal, which he did not live to see fully mounted, can now be viewed by many at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center,” said Mueller. “Dick hunted extensively in North America, Spain, Mexico and Africa, but the musk ox was the high point of his adventures and life.”
Interpretive panels detail the history of the musk ox and showcase why it continues to be a valuable animal even in modern times. Smaller than dairy cattle, a bull such as the one on display at Hickory Knolls, can weigh up to 900 pounds, while a cow usually runs about 500 pounds.
“The species’ wool, known as qiviut, is widely recognized as the finest in the world,” Otto notes.
For more information about the musk ox exhibit, contact Pam Otto at 630-513-4346.