Canada’s Majestic Moose

Pictured here is Algonquin Park’s famous big Hank. He was really old and died about one month after this picture was taken in October of 2012. Photography by wildlife photographer and Procyon Wildlife volunteer Jennifer Howard.

Article by Elizabeth Trickey

There used to be a special day for Moose in January.   It hasn’t been celebrated in a few years and I have to wonder, why not?  These animals are so Canadian – there are more moose here than anywhere else in the world!  They are the largest and heaviest of the deer species and the tallest mammal in North America.

Female moose, called “cows” give birth to one or two babies at a time.  These “calves” weigh 30-35lbs at birth and are born knowing how to walk and swim.  At only 5 days old, these youngsters can outrun a human!  The mother takes care of her babies for at least 1 year then chases them away!

Moose prefer to live in colder temperatures where there are forests with an abundance of lakes and streams.  This is because they are herbivores, eating vegetation on land and in the water.  That’s where the name “moose” came from.  It is an Algonquin word meaning “twig eater”.  Moose spend much of their time foraging for food, needing to eat about 10 000 calories each day.  That equates to around 73lbs of vegetation.  They can hold up to 100lbs of food in their stomachs!  During the winter months, they do tend to eat much less, losing about 30% of their body weight.

Another interesting fact. The moose depicted here has deformed antlers caused by natural castration. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Howard

Predators of the moose include wolves, bears, and humans.  They can be somewhat easy to kill since they do not travel in herds – moose are solitary animals.  The best defense moose have to protect themselves is their hooves.  They can kick in any direction with their front hooves which are very sharp.

One thing that distinguishes moose from other deer species is their antlers.  Called “paddles”, they are like large scoops with short, rounded tips along the outer edge.  The paddles are made of bone and are covered in hairs that appear velvety.  Antlers spread out to about 6 feet wide, can weigh up to 60lbs, and are shed every winter.

And a joke for these days – What do you call a moose wearing a mask?  Anonymoose!

Moose facts:

  • can dive 20 feet under water, holding breath for 30 seconds
  • swims 6mph (humans 3mph)
  • can swim a distance of 10 miles at a time
  • moose hair is hollow (good for buoyancy and insulation)
  • live up to 20 years
  • half of all moose are killed by predators when they are calves
  • can move each eye independently
  • vocalizations include bark, cough, bellow, croak, moan, snort
  • can run up to 35mph when charging
  • have no upper front teeth

Although Canada is the moose capital of the world, there were none in Newfoundland.  So in the 1880s, a number of moose were taken to The Rock where they flourished.  I remember taking a family vacation through Newfoundland.  One day was given totally to looking for moose.  We drove the back roads amongst trees for hours, where we thought would be a perfect place to spot these majestic animals.  Didn’t see any.  Feeling sad, we drove back into town, and there, on somebody’s front lawn, was a moose eating the person’s garden plants!!

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Howard
Mother with spring calf. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Howard

As with many animals, the moose population is diminishing.  It has only been in the last 30 years that a significant decline in their numbers has been noticed.  Research has discovered a couple of interesting reasons for this.  One is global warming.  Moose are more vulnerable to their predators because there isn’t as much deep snow.   Animals with shorter legs have more difficulty hunting in snow, which makes it safer for the moose.  Global warming also gives rise to more parasites since they prefer warmer weather.  One parasite is a winter tick that is so itchy that the moose scratch their fur off, then die of hypothermia.

Another reason for the moose decline has to due with human interference.  Roads have been built into the remote moose habitats allowing deer more access to those areas, bringing diseases to the moose, diseases the moose has not yet developed natural defenses for.

Moose provide a special function in our ecosystem by keeping vegetation under control.  This is necessary for the survival of many species such as birds and invertebrates.  Moose also act as a food source for their predators, including the people in rural communities.

Moose are considered a threatened species in only some provinces or northern states.  Thankfully, due to this awareness, some action is being taken such as cancelling or limiting moose hunts and providing undeveloped land for moose to travel between provinces/states.  These actions have had a positive effect on the moose population.

So let’s celebrate our majestic moose and all the people who choose to protect its existence.  This month, eat some Moose Tracks ice cream, sing the moose camp song, watch an old episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, or read to your children one of the many books devoted to moose.