March 5, 2014

Moose Mystery in Minnesota


Scott: The moose is one of North America’s largest animals and Minnesota is one of the few states they call home. But researchers are working around the clock to figure out why the moose population there is rapidly disappearing.

The moose in Minnesota are dying. The state has lost half of its moose population in the last four years alone, and the worst part is no one knows why.

Michelle Carstensen of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources is leading a $1.2 million study to try and solve the mystery.

Michelle Carstensen: We used to have two significant moose populations in our state, one in the northwest, one in the northeast. And the northwest moose population is pretty much gone.

Scott: In the Superior National Forest, where the snow reaches 4 feet deep and wind chills get as low as 40-below, researchers in helicopters search for the thousand pound animals. They brave the harsh winter conditions because in the summer, the trees are too thick to see the moose.

On these data collection trips, researchers shoot the moose with a tranquilizer gun to calm the animal…

Researcher: She’s at 104.6 right now.

Scott: …And then they work quickly to take blood and hair samples and install a radio collar and GPS. A tiny transmitter is placed in the moose’s throat to record its body temperature. Then they get the moose back on its feet. Ideally, all this takes place within twenty minutes of tranquilizing the animal.

Even though the study is in the early stages, after two years, climate change is a definite suspect. Average winter temperatures in northern Minnesota have increased more than four degrees over the past forty years. Scientists think warmer winters and longer summers may be weakening the heat-sensitive moose and giving wolves more time to hunt them. Parasites also have more time to infect them.

Carstensen: So we’ve kind of a race against time to try to understand what might be driving this. And even if we can figure that out, having the tools on-hand to do anything about it is the next challenge.

Scott: Researchers admit they may not come up with answers before all the moose are gone from Minnesota. But what they ultimately learn may save the moose populations in the rest of North America.

Want to learn more about other species in trouble and how some have already been saved? Well, head to


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