The sun rose above the group as they trudged through the snow, its bright rays casting sharp shadows among the trees. The persistent team of wildlife professionals scanned the windswept town for moose, one of the most iconic animals in North America, and one whose future is increasingly perilous.
The team had assembled to conduct crucial studies into the recent decline in moose populations throughout the region. Shortly after beginning their investigation, Ally, a regional biologist from Wyoming Game and Fish, received a tip about a moose in a tract of land just south of Grand Teton National Park. When the group arrived at the property, they immediately located the moose eating willows near a shed, its demeanor taciturn and peaceful in the early morning cold.
Aly prepared a tranquilizer dart while Gary, another regional biologist, used the range finder to assess the distance. Aly fired, and the struck the moose square in the muscle on the left rump. The moose hardly moved when the dart hit and continued to eat willows until she started feeling the sedation of the drugs in her system. The moose’s leg buckled under her and she laid down in the snow, her breathing rhythmic and steady as she began to sleep.
When it was safe to approach, Aly and Gary walked up to her and covered her eyes with the blindfold to minimize simulation. The rest of the team, including Dr. Ginger Stout, VIEW's wildlife veterinarian, two Wyoming Game and Fish state veterinarians, and a PhD student from Montana State University, assessed the level of sedation, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature to determine the effect of the anesthesia. A measurement of oxygen levels in the blood were determined by a machine called a pulse oximeter, similar to a machine used at a doctor’s office. Tubes connected to oxygen were placed up the nose to keep the oxygen levels normal and to counteract the lower respiratory rate under anesthesia.
Since everything looked good and the moose was stable, samples were taken, including a blood sample from the neck, hair from the withers, feces, and ticks that were found on the skin. Ginger collected samples and assessed the level of fat on the body using an ultrasound, also while helping to monitor the moose. After everything was compiled, the collar was snugly placed on the animal’s neck and the magnet removed so it would start transmitting the moose’s location to the satellite and ultimately to the software for biologists to assess over time. After the collar was fitted, a reversal was given to counteract the anesthesia. The moose started twitching her ears and moving her eyes as she began to wake, and eventually held her head up on her own. When the blindfold was removed, the moose jumped up, initially startled at what had occurred, but she soon resumed munching indolently on the willow branches. The capture was a success and the collaboration between VIEW and our partners allowed us to acquire a wealth of information to help us arrive at an understanding of the moose’s movements, health, and wellness.