BENNINGTON -- If you were to encounter a moose in your yard, would you know what to do?
Cedric Alexander, of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recommends using common sense. "Treat it as a wild animal," he said, advising that approaching the moose could cause it to charge; not necessarily as an act of aggression, but perhaps even as a method of escape. "People pet them, hug them, that's the first thing not to do. They're probably a sick animal if that's happening."
An adult moose can weigh as much as 1,400 pounds, according to the Fish and Wildlife Department's website, and while typically a moose wouldn't act aggressively towards humans, there are several situations in which this might not be the case.
During the moose's breeding or "rutting" season, which usually lasts from mid-September to mid-October, male moose can become much more aggressive. According to a fact sheet on the Fish and Wildlife Department's website, "Bulls in the rut will thrash trees and shrubs with their antlers and dig pits in the ground into which they urinate and spread scent Strenuous shoving matches between bulls may occur to establish dominance for breeding." Bull moose can be extremely unpredictable during this time, and have been known to charge people or vehicles.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Department, moose that wander into populated areas are often suffering from brainworm. Parelaphostrongylus tenuis, more commonly known as brainworm or meningeal worm, is a parasitic nematode that typically lives in white-tailed deer. "Because the worm evolved with the deer, it apparently does the deer no harm," says the fact sheet, "Moose on the other hand, may have only recently been exposed to the worm because of northward expansion of deer range over the last century. Moose are abnormal hosts of brainworm and it does them great harm." According to Alexander, around 85 percent of white-tailed dear are infected with brainworm, without any noticeable effects.
"A healthy moose may wander through a backyard, especially during rutting season," said Alexander, "The issue is do they linger, do they stick around. If that happens, our department should be contacted."
Brainworm is transferred from deer to moose through their feces. Snails feed on deer droppings ingest the brainworm larvae, and are then in turn accidentally ingested by moose, which eat the snails while eating plants. The most common symptom of brainworm, according to Alexander, is circling. Other signs could be if the moose is if the moose is holding one of its hind legs, "almost as if they're walking on coals, very tenderly," said Alexander, or if the head is drooped and tilted. Finally, an apparent lack of fear, especially of humans, is another common sign that the moose is not acting normally.
Greg Eckhardt, the game warden who shot a moose in Woodford on Monday suspected that moose of suffering from brainworm, as it had been lingering in the area for two weeks, uncommon for moose, and didn't flee when he tried to scare it off. Alexander will perform the examination of that moose sometime in December.
"In the woods we don't interfere, we leave it to nature," said Alexander, who stressed that brainworm is a fatal condition, "But if its in a situation where it is a danger to traffic on the highway, or to kids or people who may be drawn to the moose, we have to do something."
According to Alexander, records the Fish and Wildlife department keeps show that 9 percent of non-hunting moose fatalities are caused by brainworm. Traffic accidents are the number one cause of non-hunting related moose fatalities, at 70 percent. Eckhardt said that this was a relatively rare situation, as he had only put down about three moose in the last two years.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.