September 30, 2013 at 6:58 pm #435MikeKeymaster
By TIM MOWRY, Staff Writer
State wildlife officials are scrambling for answers after
a “brainworm” never before found in Alaska apparently killed at least
two moose–and maybe more–near Delta Junction.
Biologists and veterinarians are investigating the deaths of five
other moose in the area, one of which appears to have exhibited the
same odd behavior as the two moose killed by the parasite. Those
moose were seen stumbling around just hours before they died.
“We have not documented this type of worm causing disease or death in
Alaskan moose in the past, but that may be because we haven’t looked
closely enough,” wildlife veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen with the
Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a press release issued
“We need to study more samples to determine if it’s a new occurrence,
or if it’s been here all along,” said Beckmen, who was on Barter
Island Friday and could not be reached for this story.
Wildlife officials are trying to figure out whether the parasite
poses a danger to moose around the state.
The biggest fear is that the parasite is meningeal worm, a parasite
commonly found in white-tailed deer in the Lower 48 that has been
known to infect moose and elk. While the worm is not fatal in deer,
it can kill moose, caribou, reindeer and other ruminants.
“If it were meningeal worm, that would be a disaster for Alaska moose
populations,” said Randy Zarnke, a retired state wildlife biologist
who spent 23 years at Fish and Game in Fairbanks as a disease
specialist. “When it gets in moose, it just tears them up.”
At the same time, Zarnke said it “would really be jumping to
conclusions saying it is meningeal worm” without further tests to
Officials know the parasite is a roundworm and that it is transmitted
to moose through larvae shed in moose feces that are picked up by
snails and slugs, which are eaten by other moose as they browse. Once
inside the animal, the parasite migrates into the brain and attacks
the central nervous system.
“It’s way too premature to panic about what it is and what it might
be,” said fish and game public information officer Cathie Harms. “We
know what family it’s in and what genera it’s in, but we don’t have a
The worm is not the same parasite that causes chronic wasting disease
in deer and elk in the Lower 48 and poses no health risk for people,
livestock or dogs, said Harms.
What has wildlife officials nervous is that at least two of the moose
that died demonstrated symptoms similar to those caused by meningeal
worm, including stumbling and lethargy.
Biologists received the first report of a moose stumbling around a
little more than a month ago.
“Somebody called us and said they had a moose out in a hay field that
was kind of stumbling around and being fairly lethargic,” said Steve
DuBois with ADF&G in Delta. “I told them to watch it a day or two and
let us know how it turned out, and it died.”
Biologists retrieved the moose and a week later got another report of
a moose in the same area displaying similar behavior. That moose laid
down in a driveway and died, DuBois said.
Both moose appeared to be in good physical condition, he said.
The parasite was found in the brain of the second moose and chances
are the first moose to die was infected, too, based on its behavior,
Biologists have since located five more dead moose in Delta. One of
those appears to have gone through the same kind of pre-death ritual
of stumbling around, judging from tracks near the body, he said.
Tissue samples from those five moose are being analyzed and results
should be available within the next month.
“At this point we don’t even know if all the moose we have found all
have died from this,” said DuBois.
Three of the dead moose were found in the Tanana Loop area where
there are several dairy and game farms. But Harms declined to
speculate whether the parasite could have been transmitted to the
moose by livestock or through one of several elk farms in the area.
“Those are all things we have to look at,” she said.
While winter-kill moose carcasses are a common sight around Alaska
each spring, most of the time their deaths are attributed to
starvation. Judging from what biologists have seen in Delta this
spring, though, that may not be the case.
“Every year at this time of year we get dead moose carcasses in lots
of places,” said Harms. “It’s easy to say it’s winter die-off but a
lot of them might not have died from starvation.”
Biologists are asking people to report any sick or dead moose they
see so tissue samples can be taken to see if the deaths are related.
“We’d like to take a closer look at these animals while the tissue is
fresh enough so we can still perform a necropsy and look for signs of
the parasite,” said DuBois.
Sightings of moose carcasses or strangely behaving moose can be
reported to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Delta
Junction at (907) 895-4484 or the Fairbanks office at (907) 459-7206.
The forum ‘Strange Animal Deaths’ is closed to new topics and replies.