Commentary – Can the moose survive, long term?

Joe McWilliams

Is there anything more Canadian than running into a moose? Not that it’s anything to take lightly. It obviously can be fatal, to both people and moose.

It is one of the risks we accept, living where we do. Who would want to live in a world without the moose?

It’s a question worth pondering, because the prospects for the survival of large, inconvenient mammals isn’t that great. The blue whale is probably doomed. The rhinoceros, it’s said, doesn’t stand much of a chance. Grizzlies are on their way out, despite all sorts of good intentions.

The woodland caribou is another tricky one. It is in decline everywhere, with our without human interference. Perhaps unique in its inadaptability, it may only survive in game farms, a few decades from now. If that.

One way of looking at human history is of people constantly pushing against the wilderness, fearing it and trying to tame it, to make it more understandable and less scary. Also to exploit it. On it goes, and one day you wake up and realize those little parks you’ve set up aren’t nearly enough to secure the survival of the mighty ursus arctos horribilis.

Moose though, appear to be doing okay for the time being. One great success story is in Newfoundland, where there are an estimated 150,000 of the creatures from an introduced quartet about a hundred years ago. Collisions with automobiles on highways there are frequent, and often tragic.

In Sweden, meanwhile, the moose is so rampant that around 10,000 are killed by vehicles per year, and the annual harvest by hunting is 100,000!

It is hard to credit this, but moose occasionally show up in Germany, which is a country smaller than Alberta with over 80 million people. Just prior to visiting Europe in 2014 I read an article about a moose that showed up, quite inexplicably, in a Siemens industrial facility in Dresden in southeastern Germany. Now the moose (called ‘elch’ in that country) has been extinct in western Europe for a good 300 years. What was it doing there? Where in the world could it have come from? The article did not say for sure, but it speculated it could have come from neighbouring Poland.

As it happened I met a couple of guys from Dresden on that trip and mentioned the moose story. Yes, they’d heard of it. No, they did not know how it got there.

So after getting home I Googled ‘moose’ and ‘Poland,’ and sure enough, there are moose in a game preserve in the southwestern part of that country, as well as a few in the Czech Republic. There were even moose once in Scotland, the articles say, but not for the last 1,700 years or so. There is an effort to re-introduce them there.

So the moose is fairly adaptable. Not as much as certain species of deer, though, and the white-tail has to be at the top of that list. Sources blame deer-borne diseases as one factor in the decline in moose populations in parts of North America.

There is simply no way of getting the good without the bad. More moose is good too, but not on the roads. It’s another one of those dilemmas we do not have a solution for.

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