What is killing the mighty moose of North America?
According to a New York Times article published online Monday, moose are dying off at a rapid rate all across the continent, but no one can figure out why or how to save them.
Citing the example of Minnesota, the Times reported that one of the state’s two distinct moose populations has fewer than 100 moose left, compared to 4,000 in the 1990s. The other population, located in northeastern Minnesota, has dropped from 8,000 to 3,000.
The phenomenon has been observed in other states as well.
“Something’s changed,” said Montana biologist Nicholas DeCesare whose job is counting moose for the state. “There’s fewer moose out there, and hunters are working harder to find them.”
The prime suspect in the moose die-off is climate change. Shorter winters are tough on moose, whose bodies are adapted for cold weather. In warmer temperatures, moose must expend extra energy and may fall victim to exhaustion, which can be fatal.
In the winter, when their coats are thickest, and temperature over 23 degrees Fahrenheit can cause a moose to tire quickly. In the summer, any temperature over 60 is dangerous to moose.
The animals need to find between 50 and 70 pounds of food every day, but when they are too hot, scientists say, they will make cooling off a priority over looking for food, which can lead to starvation. Heat fatigue can also leave moose more vulnerable to predators and even parasites.
In Minnesota, the Times reports, brain worms and liver flukes are known to attack the moose population.
While the dropoff in moose numbers is alarming, there seem to be some places unaffected. At least, Alberta, Canada appears to be an exception. Contacted by the Calgary Herald newspaper, several scientists there all said the same thing. The moose population up there looks as healthy as ever.
SOURCES: New York Times, Calgary Herald, Minneapolis City Pages