Stumbling, dying moose in Alaska – 04/04/2004

  • September 30, 2013 at 6:58 pm #435

    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
    late Thursday.

    “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
    confirm it.

    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
    species yet.”

    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,
    said DuBois.

    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.

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