N.H., Maine game officials seek to collar Maine moose to help herd thrive

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For each collared moose, biologists collect detailed health information, including a blood sample, parasite loads, body condition, and winter tick loads. (Courtesy photo)

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists expect to be capturing and collaring 130 moose this week as the state's moose survival study enters its sixth year and focuses on a new study area.

Maine's moose population fluctuates in response to many factors, including calf birth and adult survival rates. MDIFW, in cooperation and collaboration with the University of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Fish and Game, Vermont Fish and Game, and the University of Maine-Animal Health Lab has been conducting a study that monitors calf and adult survival rates and closely examines causes of death for moose.

The study, which began in the winter of 2014, started in western Maine (WMD 8), and, in 2016, a second study area in northern Maine (WMD 2) was added. In those five years, 475 moose were captured by helicopter-launched nets and fitted with a GPS collar. These collars enable staff to remotely track moose locations and movements over time, and to be notified via text/email message if a moose dies. Adult cows are monitored each spring and summer to determine birth rates and survival rates of calves.

For each collared moose, biologists collect detailed health information, including a blood sample, parasite loads, body condition, and winter tick loads. This information is providing our researchers with an unprecedented, in-depth look at moose health, including the impact of parasites on survival and reproduction.

In the coming weeks, Maine's moose biologist Lee Kantar, several other MDIFW staff members and Native Range Wildlife Capture Services will first be collaring 35 calves in northern Aroostook county (WMD 2), and collaring 35 calves in western Maine (WMD 8) and another 60 calves will be collared in WMD 4, which is located north of Moosehead Lake (northern Somerset and Piscataquis counties).

Expanding the study to WMD 4 will provide vital information documenting the impact of winter tick on Maine's moose. Winter tick significantly impacts the survival of calves and may be impacting pregnant cows during the end of their pregnancy, causing extra stress on body condition due to blood loss. This increase in winter tick is partially a consequence of the changing climate, resulting in milder winters and creating a greater opportunity for tick survival.

With parasites and disease, a larger moose population leads to greater chance of transfer, ultimately causing higher mortality rates. It is a high priority for MDIFW to find ways to diminish the impacts of parasites and disease. For this reason, the agency is considering methods of selectively lowering the moose population in certain parts of the state to decrease the chance for parasite and disease transfer, eventually leading to a healthier population.

MDIFW also conducts aerial surveys to estimate moose abundance and the composition (bull, cow, and calf) across Maine's core range of moose. This aerial survey data, combined with reproductive data from female moose (ovaries) and age data from moose teeth (removed at registration stations), is providing biologists with a more complete picture of Maine's moose population size and composition than ever before.

Maine's moose hunters also contribute to Maine's moose study. Successful hunters with a cow permit must provide the ovaries from their harvested cow moose so biologists can continue to evaluate ovulation and reproductive rates; two critical pieces of information to monitor population growth and decline.

MDIFW contracts with Native Range Capture Services out of Elko, Nevada to capture and collar the moose. The crew specializes in capturing and collaring large animals by helicopter and using net guns to capture and collar female moose and calves. Funding for the study comes from a federal Pittman-Robertson grant (funded by the sale of hunting equipment) and the state's dedicated moose fund (funded through sale of non-resident moose applications and permits).

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