Oregon biologists look into moose deaths

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon state biologists are planning to put radio collars on several moose this month in hopes of learning what caused the mysterious deaths of two moose.

Scientists fear the deaths might be related to a plunge in moose populations in western Wyoming, where a deadly parasite was recently discovered.

"We lost two of our radioed animals this summer, and we could never determine the cause of death," said Pat Matthews, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. "So this sort of jumped out as a possibility."

A parasite could endanger Oregon's small moose numbers, estimated at 40 to 60 elusive Shiras moose. The animals migrated from Washington in the early 1990s.

The Oregon moose were wearing global-positioning-system collars when they died, Matthews said. They had been roaming the boundary of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

A carotid artery worm, Elaephora schneideri, was isolated three years ago in the Wyoming moose and is among the suspected culprits in the deaths.

The parasite might have played a role in the decline of a Jackson Hole, Wyo., moose herd, said Wyoming biologist Steve Kilpatrick. In 1995, 4,000 animals were counted, but the numbers fell to 1,691 in the most recent count.

An examination of 69 moose carcasses in the early 1970s detected no carotid worms, according to Kilpatrick, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist and chairman of the state's Moose Working Group. A similar check of hunter-killed moose last fall found almost half were infected.

Biologists suspect an ongoing drought in Wyoming, predation by bears and wolves, and the loss of cover and summer shade because of huge wildfires also may have played roles.

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