Last week Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed Executive Order 15-10, requiring the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to end its practice of collaring moose for study. Biologists began placing collars on the animals since 2013 as part of the DNR’s $1.7 million study on why moose numbers in Minnesota are declining so dramatically.
Not long after the study began, critics claimed that the research itself was causing too much harm to the animals, reporting that a quarter of collared calves had been abandoned by their mothers after capture. Fatalities due to complications with sedation have also been recorded with both calves and adults.
“I respect that DNR researchers are trying to understand why our moose population is declining,” said Governor Dayton in a press release. “However, their methods of collaring are causing too many of the moose deaths they seek to prevent. Thus, I will not authorize those collaring practices to continue in Minnesota.”
DNR biologists, however, say that fatalities are expected with a study that is ultimately about mortality. While the deaths are regrettable, scientists said their methods are safe and the research will go towards stabilizing Minnesota’s dwindling moose population.
“When you are dealing with live animals, you never know what kinds of things are going on with them on a given day,” Glenn DelGiudice, the scientist who headed the calf study, told The Wall Street Journal.
In 2006, nearly 9,000 moose roamed Minnesota’s wilds. Yet this year, biologists estimated that less than 3,500 animals were left within the state. The causes of mortality included predation from wolves and bears, disease, abandonment, and infestation from winter ticks. Collared moose in the study were hardly exempt from these factors, and in 2014, the DNR reported that more than a third of the 150 moose they had collared had already died. Most of these died due to natural causes but a handful failed to recover after sedation. The DNR counted four sedation-related deaths in 2013, three in 2014, and five this year. Capturing calves safely was also difficult and at least 18 of the 75 calves that were fitted with a collar were later abandoned by their mothers. Online petitions set up by animal advocacy groups urged the DNR to stop the study, which was already intended to end after this year.
The Star Tribune reports that there are still 99 animals fitted with collars. Those animals will remain with the project and continue to send out data until either the animal dies, or its battery runs out in about two years.