Moose Die-Off- What's The Cause

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Moose populations are declining at a rapid rate across the United States, causing many scientists to worry about their survival as a species. Montana is one of the locations where the populations are declining the most. There were once two different moose populations that numbered in the thousands. Now there are much fewer, with one population dropping down to less than 300 moose.

Biologists are working hard to protect the animals and have gone to great efforts to keep track of their numbers. They are also trying to determine what could be causing these animals to die off in such large numbers. One of the most likely reasons is the climate changes. According to scientists, the winters in Montana and many other northern states are getting shorter and the winter tick populations are growing larger.

Winter ticks can devastate moose populations by spreading disease. They can also cause hair loss, exposing the moose to the cold and even anemia, making the moose to weak to find food. Other parasites such a brain worms and liver flukes could also be causing the moose populations to decline. Some scientists believe that the shorter winters are causing the moose to suffer from heat stress.

Deforestation of areas where moose live could be another reason for dwindling moose populations. When trees are taken, moose are unable to find adequate shelter or protection from humans and predators. To ensure that overhunting is not the issue, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have issued less moose hunting permits and created better regulations. With so many factors at play, it may take a while before biologists can determine the exact cause or causes of the moose die-offs.

“It’s complicated because there’s so many pieces of this puzzle that could be impacted by climate change,” said Erika Butler, until recently the wildlife veterinarian at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Earlier this year, $1.2 million study using advanced monitoring technology to find moose as soon as they die. The animals are given transmitters in their food and the transmitters monitor vital signs. If the moose's heart stops, the transmitter sends a signal and the scientists can quickly find the dead moose before predators carry away or eat the carcass. These efforts may help biologists develop new conservations plans to help rebuild moose populations in the northern United States.

Image from Wikimedia commons.

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