VERNON — A warden with Vermont Fish and Wildlife euthanized an ailing moose on Saturday that had been spotted hanging out along Route 142 in the vicinity of Tyler Hill Road.
“When a moose begins to stay in one part of a small area, does not move, seems a little disoriented and has no fear of people, that’s a pretty good indication the moose has a brain worm infection,” said Game Warden Kelly Price.
Price, who’s been watching the moose for about a week, actually came into direct contact with the animal a few nights ago, when it was standing in the middle of the road.
“I had to walk up to it and clap loudly to get it off the road,” he said.
On Saturday, Price killed the moose with a firearm and disposed of its body.
“It was suffering,” said Price. “It’s a slow uncomfortable death.”
Parelaphostrongylus tenuis is a parasitic roundworm that lives in, but doesn’t affect, deer.
“It gets into moose when their habitats overlap,” said Price.
The parasite attacks the moose’s central nervous system, slowly killing it until it finally stands in one spot, spins in circles and falls to the ground.
For the past week, Price has been getting calls about the moose crossing Route 142 near Tyler Hill Road and the North Cemetery, but staying within an area only about 2/10s of a mile in size.
“It was emaciated,” said Price. “You could see its ribs and hips and walk right up to it.”
Which, Price noted, should only be done by a professional.
“They are very dangerous,” he said. “They do kill people.”
Price said it’s not typical to see deer or moose moving in this particular area.
“They usually travel across the road farther north,” he said.
There are presently about 2,300 moose in Vermont. But that’s not always been the story. During the 1700s and 1800s, much of Vermont was cleared for farming, and moose were hunted out of existence in the state. By 1980 however, 80 percent of Vermont was again forested, and moose began to re-enter Vermont from Canada.
Some of those moose eventually made it to southern Vermont, but because they are mixing with deer they are getting the parasite. And the relatively milder winters in southern Vermont also means that moose are being sucked dry by winter ticks, said Price.
“It’s decimating the population,” he said. “The herd in Vermont is quite low.”
Dermacentor albipictus, the winter tick, is most commonly associated with species such as elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer. Winter ticks are especially a problem for moose, which, as a species, don’t do a lot of grooming.
“The tick load in moose is astonishing,” said Price.
According to Vermont Fish and Wildlife, as many as 90,000 ticks have been documented on a single moose.
Moose just can’t produce enough blood, becoming anemic as the ticks take their toll. If it’s been a rough winter, said Price, a moose can die from the continued assault.
There’s not likely to be a decrease in winter tick load unless we see more severe winters with longer snow coverage, said Price, meaning the moose population in the south will probably continue to decline.
Chronic wasting diseases, also known as prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, are also found in moose, but are more likely to be found in elk, said Price.
Anyone who is concerned about the health or welfare of a wild animal should contact Fish and Wildlife, either through Vermont State Police dispatch at 802-722-4600, Fish and Wildlife at 802-257-7101, or by visiting Fish and Wildlife’s website.
Whatever you do, said Price, stay away from the animal.