The Gros Ventre campground continues to provide opportunities for Moose, particularly Bull Moose, as the healthy specimen in the photo, above, suggests. I had driven the stretch of road from the highway back to the campground on two separate occasions without seeing Moose. But the third time proved the charm.
The Bull—which boasted a harem of four females, all of whom browsed, caroused, and lounged with said Bull most of the afternoon—also gathered up a large crowd of photographers and nature lovers. I left after Moose bedded down for the evening, but they put on quite a show for me and the rest of the admiring throng before the light began to fade.
The last time I saw a Moose at Gros Ventre, a few years ago, it was a very sad occasion as the cow apparently suffered from a parasitic condition that caused her to go blind. She appeared a few miles up the road from the campground at a bend in the river where Moose can often be seen. She walked in circles and fell several times. Though I couldn’t tell whether she was blind in both eyes, my binoculars allowed me to see that one eye was definitely opaque. She would stop to eat—the area is filled with Willow, a favorite browse—but then she would go in search of more food, circling to the left and often coming back to where she started. A naturalist leading a group in the area suggested that parasites laying its eggs in the membrane of the eyes were responsible for the affliction. Once the young reach larval stage, they feast on the membranes, blinding the infected Moose.
The symptoms I observed that day also sound reminiscent of a disease plaguing Moose from Minnesota to Maine. There, a parasitic worm, Parelaphostrongylus tenuis, infects central and eastern North American Moose with a disease called “Moose sickness” or “Brainworm,” an ailment resulting in “blind, aimless wandering, staggering, bumping into perfectly obvious obstacles, paralysis, as well as lumbar weakness causing animals to break down in the hindquarters.” Many, though apparently not all, infected Moose die as a result of the disease.
In Alaska, Moose have died from a virus that causes a hemorrhagic disease more usually associated with deer. (See “Disease Identified in Moose. )
In Virginia, Moose have succumbed to a chronic wasting disease with symptoms that include “dramatic weight loss, tremors and teeth-grinding.” Resulting from a protein that “bores holes in the brain,” the wasting disease (similar to mad-cow disease) causes “infected animals to drool, stumble and waste away as they lose control of bodily functions.” The same ailment has been reported in Moose in Colorado and Wyoming.
An even larger number of Moose have been dying from a problem associated with climate change. Moose in northern states—from Vermont to Minnesota—have died in record numbers due to winter ticks. Warming winter temperatures have allowed populations of ticks to increase significantly, and the ticks have taken a staggering toll on Moose. In Minnesota, some Moose have been found with more than 100,000 ticks attached to their bodies; in New Hampshire, with more than 150,000 ticks. The ticks cause Lyme disease but the more serious problem results from blood loss: the ticks attach themselves to Moose and feed on them thoughout the winter, methodically sucking out more and more of their blood. By Spring, many Moose die from substantial blood loss. In New Hampshire, where the population of Moose has dropped by more than 40%, ticks get a large share of the blame, according to “A North Woods Icon at Risk”:
“After the 2001 winter, of the collared moose in New Hampshire, 75 percent of the calves died along with 20 percent of the adult cows. Over a five year period, ticks accounted for 41 percent of all moose deaths in the state. In the winter of 2014, 64 percent of radio-collared moose calves died from tick overloads.”
If you’ve been lucky enough to see Moose in the wild, you know how impressive they are. Large, beautiful creatures with soulful eyes, Moose deserve better.