Saturday, August 09, 2008

Mystery of the Fiordland Moose

(Photo via News Durham Region)

Most people have heard about mysterious wilderness creatures like the yeti of the Himalaya, or the Sasquatch of North America's west. But few outside of New Zealand have heard about the mystery of the Fiordland moose. With new "evidence" coming to light recently, this seemed like a good time to share the story with all of you.

In 1910, 10 Canadian moose were gifted to New Zealand. The idea was to release them into the wild, where they would happily breed until there was a viable population for hunters who like a big rack (so to speak.) New Zealand, after all, is completely lacking in native mammals (OK, there were a few bats, but they hardly make good hunting) so European hunters were keen to import game so they'd have more to shoot at.

The moose, however, never really took to their new home in Fiordland National Park. They were outnumbered by (also imported) red deer, who ate all the good leaves and didn't get shot often enough to keep their numbers in check. Soon enough, the moose seemed to have disappeared. Most Kiwis assumed they were extinct in this country.

In 1951, a hunter named Robin Smith not only spotted a moose in Fiordland - he shot it! But in the end he kinda felt bad about it. I guess that's something. He managed to spot another moose the next year, but since his 1952 encounter there have been no confirmed sightings. The moose are presumed to be all dead.

That hasn't stopped Ken Tustin from devoting his life to proving that the moose population is alive and well, just a bit shy. (Well, I'd be shy too if people shot at me every time I showed myself!) He has claimed to have seen moose several times, but never got a clear photo (sounds more and more like a yeti all the time!) He did find some suspect droppings and tracks too.

Recently, Tustin found some hairs and had them sent off for DNA testing at a Canadian lab. The results came back as a strong match for moose, prompting many to finally believe that there are some survivors descended from the 1910 herd.

Nobody knows for sure if the moose are out there, and if so how many. But if photographic proof emerges, it could cause the Department of Conservation to take action to protect the moose population. Which is kind of funny, since really they should never have been released into New Zealand's ecosystem in the first place!

Background story here. Recent DNA story here.

1 comment:

Determinist said...

Deer and moose don't mix. This is especially bad for the moose, since most deer (certainly whitetail, not sure about redtail) commonly carry a parasite in their intestines that is fatal to moose.

So - whenever there are deer around, moose have a hard time.

This explains why they aren't everywhere I suppose.