Moose census estimates about 400 in the park

A moose walks on a boggy area in Tupper Lake in October 2009. (Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

BOLTON — Three men are in a helicopter, approaching a running moose.

One is shooting cracker shells on either side of the animal, herding it to a clearing. Another has a net gun ready. He shoots the net in front of the moose and it wraps around its large head and long legs. The animal falls to the ground.

Two of the men jump out of the helicopter and on top of the moose.

“Yeah, so this is real rodeo stuff,” said Jim Stickles, a big game biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “So this is what I’m saying, these guys are crazy. We’re glad to pay them to do this.”

He continued to narrate the soundless video. The experts from Native Range Capture Services, out of New Zealand, bind the moose’s legs and place a mask around its face. They do not drug the animal, Stickles said, as that could affect its ability to regulate its body temperature in cold weather.

The men take samples of the New York moose’s blood, comb it for ticks and put on an ear tag and radio neck collar. They take off the hobbles around the moose’s legs and feet, take off the mask, take off the net and hop off the giant.

“Then you hope they don’t turn around and come at you,” Stickles continued narrating. The moose ran off into the wilderness.

The audience laughed. Stickles showed the moose tracking footage as part of his latest presentation at the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Living Lands Series in Bolton Landing Wednesday, called “Adirondack Moose — Behavior and Tracking.”

The footage of the New Zealand company, which New York State hired to do the collar work, had the audience gasping, laughing and murmuring “wow.” The video was not able to be provided to The Post-Star in time for publication, but similar videos have been posted of the company doing other kinds of animal tracking, including a deer capture for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department.

Stickles said the DEC hired Native Range Capture Services as part of the state’s moose collaring effort, which ran January 2015 to 2017. Twenty-six were collared. Aerial surveys, observations, roadkill reports and scat tracking have also helped the DEC determine the number of moose in the Adirondacks, and right now, the estimate is around 400.

Moose can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and eat 60 to 70 pounds of vegetation a day. Their size, however, doesn’t always protect them from Mother Nature’s brutality.

For example, winter ticks, Stickles said, can do a number on moose.

Unlike deer, which primp and preen often, moose are typically reactive groomers. That means ticks can build up in the thousands on one moose, so dense that biologists can’t see the moose’s skin. The moose may start ripping out its own hair to rid itself of the ticks, which Stickles said often happens in the winter months.

Not only are these insects feeding on the animal, but it is now without its winter coat. Its white, bare skin has led to the nickname, “ghost moose.” The combination of stress in winter, lack of heat and already depleted blood supply can kill it.

Babies can be prey for bears or coyotes, though Stickles said moose are some of the best moms and are very aggressive.

Sometimes its own size is a problem. If a moose breaks a hip, for example, it likely won’t heal because it’s so large.

The DEC is still working to determine the number of moose the Adirondacks can accommodate, and eventually hopes to have a moose management plan.

For more information on moose in New York, or to report a sighting, visit dec.ny.gov/animals/6964.html.

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