Moose Fatalities Can Take Many Different Forms in the Maine Woods

February 8, 2017 at 1:22 pm

By Scott McLellan, Wildlife Biologist, Region E The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) recently entered its 4th year of a moose mortality study in western Maine (west of Moosehead Lake).  This study aims at improving our understanding of mortality factors, mortality rates, calf survival and recruitment, just to name a few.  To gain this understanding, moose are equipped with a radio collar that communicates information to wildlife biologists via satellites.  Our findings thus far have been interesting and intriguing, and on December 18, 2016, that was especially the case. Wildlife biologists were notified that a radio collar had not moved in 4.5 hours, which generally means that the animal wearing the radio collar is dead.  Upon arrival, observers witnessed the evidence of a very natural but unfortunate mishap that otherwise would have gone unnoticed had this animal not been marked with a transmitter.  Somehow, the year and a half old moose had lodged its front, left leg into the crotch of a yellow birch that was about 4 ½ feet high off the ground.  The moose had apparently bucked up or reared up onto her back legs for one reason or another, accidentally slid that leg down into the crotch as she tried to land, and then got jammed at the hoof.  The split in the tree’s stem was just wide enough apart for the moose to get its leg into, but since the end of a moose’s leg is clubbed (because of the hoof, dewclaws, and all of the associated bones), this prevented the entire leg from coming out of the tree’s crotch.  The leg was not broken, but when a necropsy was conducted, there were numerous internal indications of a lengthy struggle.  In addition, there was a lot of missing bark (from struggling) along the side of the yellow birch where she was lying.  The locations transmitted from the radio collar had also indicated that she had been in that spot for several days before expiring.  There is numerous documentation of incidental mortality in moose across their range, but is the first of this exact type that we have documented on the mortality study here in northern Maine.