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Pukaskwa National Park of Canada

Monitoring moose from the air

During the winter, park staff at Pukaskwa National Park hop aboard a helicopter to count moose (Alces alces) from the air. The monitoring survey allows the park to obtain an estimate of the park’s moose population, which gives an indication of the health of the park’s forest ecosystems.

Aerial moose survey Three moose spotted during Pukaskwa’s aerial moose survey
© Parks Canada

The 2011 survey estimated the moose population at 222 animals, or 0.2 moose/km2. This was up slightly from a 2008 survey that estimated the park’s population at 144 animals. Outside of the park, the moose population is almost twice as high. This is likely because there are a lot more young forests in areas that have been logged and are now regenerating. Young trees and shrubs are ideal for moose to forage.

Despite the small increase in Pukaskwa’s moose population, the numbers are right where we want them to be. Having too many moose may have a negative impact on a small remnant population of Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in the park, as elevated numbers of moose will attract elevated numbers of wolves, a top predator that will also prey on caribou given the opportunity. Although predation is a natural process, Pukaskwa’s caribou numbers have experienced significant declines over the last three decades and are now so few that even a slight increase in predation may cause them to disappear altogether.

Also of concern to both moose and caribou, are the increased observations of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the park. Warmer winters and the widespread conversion of forests into agricultural land in North America have been favourable for this species to expand its range north. White-tailed deer are carriers of brain worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis), a small parasitic nematode that infects the brain. Although white-tailed deer themselves are unaffected by its presence, other species suffer severe neurologic damage that eventually leads to death.

Pukaskwa aims to ensure the balance of moose, wolves, and caribou is maintained so that the full complement of natural biodiversity can be maintained on the landscape. Want to know how YOU can help? Report your observations of any of these animals to park staff during your visit to Pukaskwa and learn more about any of these topics by speaking with one of our staff at the Visitor Centre.

 Moose captured on wildlife camera Two cows and a yearling (one-year-old) moose captured on a wildlife camera on the Coastal Hiking Trail
© Parks Canada