The first GPS messages from dead moose to Minnesota researchers are coming in.
Minnesota wildlife researchers trapped 111 moose in January and February and placed GPS trackers and transmitters on them. The Duluth News Tribune reports already, six of the 111 moose in the study have died.
Of those, four are listed as having perished from the stress of being tranquilized and collared, leading to other problems and their death. That rate is average for capture/collaring projects and is lower than recent Minnesota moose studies, according to Erika Butler, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources veterinarian in charge of the moose mortality project.
Of the two animals that died from other causes, both appear to be victims of wolf attacks. One had been mostly eaten, and the other had injuries from a wolf attack but had not been eaten.
While wolves were the ultimate cause of death for those two moose, Butler said both of them, and even some of the moose that died from capture-related stress, had lower-than-usual body fat in what has been a fairly normal, if not mild, winter in moose country.
Butler went on to say, “When we are capturing them in January, that’s early enough in winter that they should still have some good body fat, and three of these didn’t. That’s not normal.”
Seth Moore, director of biology and environment for the Grand Portage Band is studying 19 moose captured in and around the Grand Portage Reservation and fitted with the same kind of collars the DNR is using.
So far, one of his moose has died, and investigators found a surprising cause. Moore said “It was clear that wolves killed it. The site was just decimated from the struggle. But when we got to looking in the lungs, they were just full of bright-green pneumonia. This was a health-compromised animal that wolves got to.”
According to aerial surveys, the Northeastern Minnesota moose population decreased a jaw-dropping 35 percent from last winter to this winter — from an estimated 4,230 in 2012 to 2,760 this January. That one-year decline was more than double the average drop in recent years of 15 percent. The population was as high as 8,800 in 2006.