February 2, 2023

Are Wolves Causing Low Body Fat in Moose in Minnesota?

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The Duluth News Tribune has a story from yesterday, March 18, 2013, that headlines that wolves are taking a toll on Minnesota moose; a headline that many of us have waited for for quite some time. But perhaps the headline is a bit premature. Further data collection and research might tell a better and more complete story……..or will it?

It’s always difficult to get an accurate assessment of events such as wildlife studies from newspaper accounts and I don’t think I need explain why. So, from this one newspaper account, I would like to point out just one part of it that presents a confusing and perhaps misleading bunch of statements. This may be intentional bias or not. I don’t really know, but it does little to solve a problem.

Here’s a snippet taken from the article:

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. From a post-mortem investigation at the scene, it appears wolves got the big cow’s calf and then left the area before the cow died, Butler said.

“She died from secondary issues after being wounded by wolves. … It was pretty cool how (the crews) went in there and figured out what happened,” Butler said.

While wolves were the ultimate cause of death for those 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.

“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,” Butler said.

A reduction in nutrition, possibly from warm weather in the summer when moose are too hot to eat, or from habitat issues, is one theory why moose are having problems making it through winter.

It’s not so much that this information may be perceived as incorrect as it is that it is incomplete. In addition it’s a continuation of the perpetuated bias found in most all media accounts of why moose are disappearing in Minnesota. For years people have questioned this phenomenon and for years have refused to place any of the blame on the presence of wolves. The blame has always been on global warming. And what is near a tragic event is that perhaps their answer is staring the scientists right in the face as might be indicated from this account.

Two moose are said to have been killed as the result of wolves but the researchers seem to be marveling at the discovery that the moose have lower than expected body fat. Once again, the blame is put on the possibility that it is warmer summer time temperatures, along with reduced habitat, that is causing it. Again, not that this assessment is wrong, but for God’s sake do any of these researchers have an understanding of stress factors on moose, the result of which comes from the mere presence of wolves? Have they no elementary knowledge that stressed out moose will not eat as they should in order to gain the needed fat supplies to get through the cold winters? Or that the body fat will come off quickly and/or never be put on due to constant harassment?

It doesn’t end here either. Also included in the snippet above is the account of the cow moose’s calf that was eaten while the cow, having been attacked also by the wolves, was left to die. What is just as infuriating to me is that not only do I see the seemingly blind ignorance of not attributing low body fat to stress from wolves, it also appears that the researchers can’t understand why there is such a low calf recruitment of the moose.

Some people don’t understand that it isn’t necessarily the adult moose that need to be killed off to destroy a population. All you need do is reduce the calf recruitment, that is circumstances that do not allow for calf moose to live beyond their first year, to a level where sustainability becomes problematic. When calf recruitment nears zero, one can expect to find precipitous drops in total moose populations.

In the account shown above, are we not seeing the preferred diet of the wolves? Is not the young calves, obviously easier for the wolves to kill than a full grown moose, the cuisine of choice? And if this is true, why then is it some seemingly obtuse puzzlement to understand why moose calf recruitment is in trouble?

It is hopeful, yet I remain skeptical, that a completion of this study will get to the bottom of the problem. The skepticism comes when one reads accounts such as this that makes people like me see that researchers are seeking a pre-hoped-for outcome.

And speaking of incomplete studies and information, will we also from this study, get any work done on all the diseases that moose suffer from; one of them being hydatid cysts found in the lungs that can have not only health issues, but lessens a moose’s ability to escape predation. If they want to know what’s killing the moose, all factors must be considered. Otherwise, these people will just stick to the claims of global warming and loss of habitat; which may be their goal anyway.