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November 14, 2019

contributed photograph

This moose was captured on Patrick Shey’s trail camera north of the Turtle-Flambeau flowage in Iron County.
contributed photograph

This moose was captured on Patrick Shey’s trail camera north of the Turtle-Flambeau flowage in Iron County.
10/12/2019 7:30:00 AM
Natural Reaction
What's with all the moose?
Jacob Friede
Of the Lakeland Times

Over the last couple weeks I have been getting a number of moose pictures and reports of moose sightings. They have come in from the Minocqua area, Lac du Flambeau area, Manitowish Waters area, and Mercer area, and while moose sighting are usually a rare occurrence in northern Wisconsin, that is not always the case come mid- to late-September.

"It's the peak of the rut so this is really common,' Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) big game specialist Kevin Wallenfang said. "I think a lot of these moose are here year round but they don't really make themselves seen and then the rut kicks in and those bulls start walking."

Moose are big animals, but they can effectively remain hidden in the woods until they drop their guard and start looking for cows to breed with.

"They could be living right under your nose all summer long and you don't know that they're there, and then all of a sudden the rut comes up and they lose caution and they start moving more during the day," Wallenfang explained. "Just like deer when the rut kicks in. You're more likely to see a buck running down the road in the middle of the day in November than you are in September. Same kind of thing."

The moose rut usually winds down come October and then moose in Wisconsin, for the most part, disappear from human sight. But that doesn't mean they aren't there.

"We've always got a handful of moose in the state," Wallenfang said. "How many, we don't know."

Some cows have even had their calves here in Wisconsin.

"We've had some cows with calves seen in the state, so I think that there might be the occasional calf born here, but we can't really verify that we have what you call a breeding population," Wallenfang explained.

Moose are not actively managed with a hunting season in Wisconsin, though Wallenfang said the DNR does keep track of their numbers with the help of eye witnesses. There is a form on the DNR website for rare mammal sightings that people can fill out as a report.

"We just keep track of them," Wallenfang said. "We don't typically go out and look for them. We don't try to put radio collars on them. We don't catch them and take them some place else or anything like that. We just try to keep track of the number of sightings and try to differentiate one moose from another to try and give us some sort of a guess as to what the population might be."

Wallenfang said there are about 30-50 reports of moose sightings per year in Wisconsin. According to the DNR's Moose Observation report, in 2018 there were 42 observations of 41 moose in the state. Ten of those sightings were in Iron County, which was the most for any county in the state. Six sightings were reported in Vilas County. That was the second most for any county.

A big reason why there are not more permanent moose in Wisconsin is brainworm. Brainworm is a parasite that can lay eggs in the brain of a moose. The larvae of those eggs then passes through the bloodstream into the lungs where they are coughed-up or swallowed. If swallowed they pass through the digestive system. From there the parasites pass to certain snails and slugs that act as intermediate hosts. Moose will eat those slugs and snails while consuming vegetation and thereby become infected. The snails and slugs that act as hosts for brainworm are more prevalent in Wisconsin then in the further northern latitudes where moose thrive.

"The other thing about moose in Wisconsin is that they're very susceptible to brainworm," Wallenfang said. "Most of our deer carry brainworm so it's very common, but it doesn't affect deer but it affects moose. It usually will kill them. That's really the limiting factor why we don't have more moose in Wisconsin."

The moose that do make it to Wisconsin tend to stay out of sight for most of the year, but if they are encountered, Wallenfang said common sense caution should be used.

"It's like any big animal. Give it its space and if it acts aggressive get out of there," he advised. "Don't try to run up to it and take photographs."

Wallenfang said moose have a tremendous sense of smell and will most likely flee the presence of a human before being spotted.

That's also thanks to their large ears which give them an amazing ability to hear.

"They've basically got big satellite dishes on their head," he said. "They hear very well."

And while he doesn't consider moose to be overtly dangerous, Wallenfang said extra caution should be taken when a cow is encountered with calves.

"If it's a cow with a calf, that is more dangerous than a bull by far, because she'll defend that calf," he said. "So a cow with a calf will definitely come after a person if you get too close to it."

There are more moose in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan than in Wisconsin and Wallenfang said some northern Wisconsin sightings are possibly moose that have traveled south and crossed the state line.

While not all stay, some definitely do, he said.

"There's no question that some of them stay in Wisconsin," he said.

So if you're in Wisconsin and you're lucky enough to witness a moose, it's not an abnormality, but rather a rare treat.

"It's a lifetime experience in Wisconsin," Wallenfang said. "Not many people have seen more than one."

To report a moose sighting to the DNR visit dnr.wi.gov and keyword search "large mammal observation."

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com.





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