We compared wild muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) on Banks Island (Northwest Territories, Canada) with captive animals maintained on grass (Bromus sp.) hay and supplemental minerals. We measured copper (Cu) in liver, whole serum, and deproteinated serum (unbound Cu) as well as serum activity of the Cu-enzyme ceruloplasmin. Unbound serum Cu concentrations did not change with season in captive animals (n=53). Ceruloplasmin activity was similar between seasons in females but elevated in males during breeding in autumn. Increasing concentrations of Cu in whole sera were mainly associated with protein whereas unbound Cu predominated at low concentrations of whole serum Cu. Ceruloplasmin activity and serum Cu concentration were linearly related to liver Cu in female muskoxen. Measures of copper status in females were lower in the wild (n=19) than in captivity (n=16): 8 vs. 160 ug Cu·g−1 of whole liver; 0.67 vs. 1.15 μg unbound Cu·ml−1 whole serum and; 22 vs. 33 IU·l−1 ceruloplasmin activity. Bioavailability of Cu may limit the population on Banks Island especially when density of animals is high. The wide range of hepatic Cu concentrations in muskoxen indicated accumulation of Cu without apparent ill effect in captive animals. Hepatic storage of Cu may allow wild muskoxen to contend with low and fluctuating availability of Cu in small foraging areas at high latitudes.
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