Boy, it’s rough to be a moose in Minnesota these days. Minnesota State wildlife officers say the moose calves are dying at a faster rate than ever before. In fact the overall North American Moose population is dying off at an alarming rate and no one seems to be able to explain why.
Biologists in Minnesota say more than 70 percent of the young moose they have been tracking over the last couple of years have died within the first four months after birth. The calves that have made it so far still must make it through the largely anticipated cold winter that lies ahead. That is an alarming mortality rate when you consider the experts agree that without any outside intervention, a species will become extinct in two to three generations if nothing is done to turn the drastic negative effect of population loss. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has already suspended the 2013 hunting season as a result of the overall drop in the population of the moose heard since last year. Once the problem is identified, the moose heards will have to be given ample time to re-build before any thought of hunting the majestic animal should be considered again.
The moose population in Minnesota has plummeted more than 50% in the last two years. Results of the 2013 annual aerial moose survey conducted in January indicated that 2,760 moose were left, down from 4,230 in 2012. Almost half of the states moose population was lost in twelve months. Moose need a mortality rate lower than 50% percent in the first year of life to maintain the species population at acceptable numbers. The population of moose in Minnesota plummeted by one-third last year, double the rate of the previous year, and the mortality rate continues to climb.
The leading cause of death of the moose appears to be caused by a single predator, the Grey Wolf. Others feel the severe climate change over the past few years could be the culprit. But the DNR have documented proof that the declining number of moose population is the result of wolf attacks. This appears to be among the most common causes of death for moose calves also. Still, some experts cite climate change as one of the main factors for the decline. The exact factor of the decline appears to be a subject for debate.
The DNR has verified that more than half of the moose that died were killed by wolves. Bears were ruled out as the main killers. They are more of an independent animal and will not try to take on an adult moose; on the other hand, wolves run in packs and will try to take down an adult moose. Studies show that by far the greatest number of moose, (primarily calves), were killed by wolves. A number were abandoned by their mothers while being attacked by packs of wolves. A very small number died from natural causes.
The second highest amount of deaths was caused by massive infestations of winter ticks, and others that succumbed to deer-related parasites and infections. The warming environment in Minnesota has caused some unforeseen damage to the moose populations. The spring, summers and fall weather over the past few years in Minnesota have been drier and warmer than usual. This has allowed the ticks up north to thrive more than in the normal cycle of seasons in Minnesota. Over 100,000 ticks can cover an adult moose’s body. That many ticks on the body of a moose will drain enough blood out to rapidly cause the moose to cause anemia leading to infection, diseases and eventually death. There is another problem with the massive presence of ticks. The ticks create a tremendous itching of the moose’s skin as a result of their bites, which causes the massive animal to rub, relentlessly, against trees which causes them to lose huge chunks of hair. This deteriorates their coats that protect them from the cold of winter and rain. The loss of this coat can cause hypothermia. The moose is a cold weather animal, which means in the warm winter months the moose will expend much more energy to regulate their body temperature than normal. This effort alone can exhaust them and ultimately kill them.
I remember a radio show I did back in 2009. I was visiting with a gentleman from Minnesota about his anti-wolf campaign. Seems the Minnesota DNR was re-introducing the wolf back into the wilderness of Minnesota at the time. He was predicting that the wolf, a "pack" hunter (meaning animals that hunted with six to ten adults in a group), would soon take over the wilderness and cause the decline of other species of animals. I regret to say he just might have been right. What is the old saying? "Don’t mess with Mother Nature". I surely don’t know the answer to this situation, but I do know that the wolf is without blame in this situation. The wolf was placed in a new environment and now is doing what the wolf does best – surviving!