I noticed earlier this year that the moose-hunting season had been cancelled in Minnesota due to concerns over the decline of the state’s moose population. While some areas of North America have seen the numbers of these animals increase – notably North Dakota – other areas like New Hampshire and Minnesota have seen their numbers drop.
It was only recently that I realized just how sudden, how precipitous the decrease has been in Minnesota. A 35% drop in a single year.
Moose, those lumbering giants that look goofy without their antlers and daunting with them, are built for cool weather. The insects that feed on them (tens of thousands of ticks and mosquitoes – that’s per moose) thrive in higher temperatures.
The more ticks and other blood-sucking insects that attack the moose, the more the moose rub against trees, the more hair they rub off, leaving hairless patches which are all the more vulnerable to attack. Researchers estimate the amount of ticks they are finding on moose are 10-20 times the normal amount, leading to anemia. And there may be other factors – internal parasites, disease, and overall weakness due to higher temperatures for which the moose are ill-equipped.
A report issued by the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, Wildlife in a Warming World, concludes,
“Extreme weather is devastating communities and habitats; species’ range shifts are happening two to three times faster than previous estimates; and more and more wildlife species are on the brink of extinction due to human- caused climate change. Now is the time for America to take swift, bold action to reduce carbon pollution that is heating the planet and properly deal with the unavoidable impacts of an already changing climate.”
Conservation efforts are often rooted in estimates, timelines and practices based on how a species has survived in previous environments. Looking at this makes me realize that the variables may change more quickly than anyone, or any animal, can adapt.
There were always going to be winners and losers in the climate change process. In the case of the Minnesota moose, it looks like the parasites are winning.
U.S. National Wildlife Federation report – Wildlife in a Warming World (2013) by A. Staudt, C. Shott, D. Inkley, I. Ricker
OnEarth article that documents the determined efforts to find out what, exactly, is at the root of moose decline in Minnesota – What’s Killing Minnesota’s Moose? by Jessica Benko
MinnPost.com article – Where the wild things aren’t: Moose, other species fade with climate change by Ron Meador
Reuters article – Minnesota moose population plummets, activists blame climate by Deborah Zabarenko