Eighty-three percent of the moose calves collared this year in an Alaska Department of Fish and Game calf mortality study died, according to the study’s findings.
The study started in February as a subcomponent to an ongoing examination of the moose populations in Game Management Units 15A and 15C on the Kenai Peninsula, areas targeted for intensive management, said Jeff Selinger, Fish and Game Kenai area wildlife biologist.
“When you’re looking at populations, one of the most important things you can look at is how many animals are coming in and how many are going out,” Selinger said.
The study, which collared 54 calves, was conducted only in Unit 15C, spanning an area south of Tustumena Lake and west of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Of those 54 calves biologists collared, 45 died, according to the study.
Selinger said most wildlife populations in Alaska loose about half their moose calves in their first three to six weeks of life, but the number of deaths in 15C is high.
The preliminary study results show that of the 54 calves that died, brown bears killed 19.
Of the other deaths, black bears killed two, an undetermined bear species killed five, wolves or coyotes killed one, an unknown predator killed three, disease killed one, three drowned, four died from unknown causes, and researchers caused seven deaths when they frightened the cows into abandoning their calves.
The study’s principal investigator, Thomas McDonough, a research biologist for Fish and Game, said the death distributions may change pending further analysis of kill-site evidence, but the “bottom line,” Selinger said, is bears kill a majority of moose calves in their first six weeks of life.
Before Selinger and McDonough conducted the study, they said they knew bears would account for the majority of calf deaths. Predators in general, McDonough said, are a major limiting factor on moose populations.
But, McDonough said, the question is, “Is it the main factor?”
Neither Selinger nor McDonough said they can answer that question now.
“You need to do this for several years to see if there’s a pattern,” Selinger said. “We just finished a record snow level on the Kenai last year. That may play into these statistics. Maybe this’ll be what we see on annual basis, but we can not come out and say this is the norm.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.