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Canadian woman has the answer to tick infestations in wild moose

By Karen Graham     Feb 21, 2015 in Environment
Smithers - Tick infestations in wild moose are so bad that the animals will rub the hair off their bodies try to get relief, that is, if the loss of blood doesn't kill them first. But the owner of a B.C. wildlife shelter may have found a way to get rid of the ticks.
Angelika Langen is the owner of a wildlife shelter in Smithers, British Columbia. She has watched as tick infestations have caused the moose at her shelter to literally scratch the hair off their bodies as they tried to get relief from the blood-sucking parasites. She found some powders normally used on farm animals that would work on the moose but was stumped over how to apply it to a wild animal.
"We found that the powders work quite well. So if can get the powder to the affected area and you powder them up, then within 24 hours — latest 48 hours — the ticks are all dead and they fall off," said Langen. She finally figured out a way to get the powder on the hide of a moose. Langen's son is a paintball enthusiast, and she came up with the idea of putting the powder inside a paintball, in place of the paint, and shooting the powder paintball directly at the spot on the moose where the tick infestation was located.
Ticks can attack moose in droves  draining their blood and possibly killing them. (screen grab)
Ticks can attack moose in droves, draining their blood and possibly killing them. (screen grab)
National Gegraphic
This is a far better and safer way than tranquilizing or trapping the wild animals, and it can be done from a safe distance. So far, says CBC News, she hasn't come up with a way to manufacture the pellets, so she can't test the idea. Mike Bridger is coordinator for a provincial program to monitor the moose winter tick problem. Although he thinks it's a neat idea, he's not sure if it would work on thousands of moose. But he says it's worth trying on a small area of heavily infected moose.
The declining moose problem in North America
Since around the 1990s, the North American moose population has been steadily decreasing, with some areas of Canada and the U.S, showing dramatic drops in the number of moose. For the longest time, there was no consensus on the causative factors involved in the declines, but studies were begun in the hope of determining what was killing off North America's largest member of the deer family.
Alaska is just about the only place in North America that does not have a problem with declining moo...
Alaska is just about the only place in North America that does not have a problem with declining moose numbers, so far.
John J. Mosesso
Today, most scientists and wildlife specialists agree that the declines are the result of a combination of factors, including climate change, parasites like liver flukes and brain worms, unregulated hunting, the reintroduction of wolves and massive winter tick infestations.
But with the exception of illegal hunting and wolves, which between the two don't account for the massive number of die-offs, the bigger culprit is climate change and the resulting increases in parasite and tick populations. And these causative issues all go together in being a good candidate for the die-offs of the moose population.
Climate, parasites, and moose ticks
Ignoring the deep freeze going on across the northeastern part of the U.S. and Canada, in general, winters have become increasingly shorter and milder across much of the moose's range. In many places, we are experiencing a longer fall with less snow. Moose are not tolerant of warm weather, either. When temperature rise above 23 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, moose expend extra energy searching for food, leading to heat stress, exhaustion and death.
Screen grab of an incised sheep s liver showing liver flukes (Fasciola gigantica) wriggling in the c...
Screen grab of an incised sheep's liver showing liver flukes (Fasciola gigantica) wriggling in the cut section of the liver. In a moose, the flukes die, causing extensive damage, killing the animal.
Brain worms and liver flukes are also a major contributor to moose die-offs. when it comes to brain worms, the moose, even though it is a member of the deer family, does not have the same apparent resistance to the worm that its cousins, the white-tail deer has. Deer carry brain worms and are an essential part of the worm's life cycle. Because the moose is less resistant to the worm, when infected, neurological symptoms, like walking in circles, stumbling and shaking the head become apparent, leaving the animal standing in one spot, easy prey to wolves and hunters.
The primary host of the giant liver fluke (Fascioloides magna) is the white-tailed deer. And while the flukes need the deer to finish their reproductive cycle, they cannot reproduce in a moose liver, and will eventually die, but only after doing extensive damage to the liver first. A study done in 2013 showed a distinct correlation between the increase in liver flukes in moose being influenced by an increasing density of the white-tailed deer population in the areas studied.
All the studies done in the past few years indicate that climate change is affecting the ranges of the white-tailed deer population. Historically, heavy winters have kept the deer and moose populations apart. Milder winters have allowed the deer to range further north, and co-mingling is becoming more frequent. But the major losses are pointing to the numbers, very high numbers of winter ticks.
Kristine Rines is the moose project leader for New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department. In talking about the decline in New Hampshire's moose population in recent years, she says there has been a 40 percent decline, and it appears to be directly related to milder winters and less snow cover. With less snow, more ticks survive to lay eggs when they finish feeding on a moose and drop to the ground, causing an increase in ticks. She says, “The ticks are literally carpeting these animals’ bodies like shingles on a roof. It’s enough to make you run screaming through the woods.”
Rines and other wildlife officials have counted more than 100,000 ticks on a single moose. With that many ticks sucking blood from the animal, the body starts cannibalizing its own muscles for protein before eventually running out of steam and dying. The situation is expected to get worse as the climate slowly changes.
There are solutions that could be integrated into the management of the moose population in North America. One way is to try controlling the white-tailed deer population in prime moose areas. Getting rid of ticks using paintballs might work on small, selected or isolated groups, but trying to fix the whole problem will require a more complex and thoughtful type of process.
More about Moose, tick infestations, Declining population, Climate change, BC wildlife shelter
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