Maine biologist says helicopter crew aided in successful moose capture project

Posted Feb. 13, 2014, at 3:20 p.m.

Perfect weather conditions, a skilled helicopter crew and some advance scouting work by biologists combined to make a recent moose capture project a success, the state’s moose biologist said this week.

“It went extremely well,” Lee Kantar of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said on Tuesday. “The weather was in our favor, meaning we had very little in the way of precipitation. And it was balmy out. We had days in the teens.”

Add in the advance work that Kantar and regional biologists put in, and the New Mexico-based helicopter crew from Aero Tech was able to fly directly to many of the soon-to-be-collared moose.

Kantar said that 60 moose were fitted with the collars — 30 adult females, 14 male calves and 16 female calves. The collars are designed to expand, in the case of the calves, and should not need adjustment. In the future, as biologists locate and monitor the moose in the study, they’ll do so covertly.

“This is meant to be a stealth type of operation,” Kantar said. “It’s not meant [for biologists] to go in and dawdle and look at these animals. It’s meant to go in, get a quick glimpse, and get out of Dodge. This is really a noninvasive way of doing this.”

The study, which will stretch for at least five years — six years if a planned second capture of northern Maine moose takes place next winter — mirrors a project being undertaken in New Hampshire. And while biologists will learn plenty about their state’s respective herds, the true focus is moose mortality.

All 60 moose that were captured in the project that began 10 days ago were healthy and their collars are transmitting daily signals back to Kantar. He said none of the moose was injured during the capture operation.

“[The Aero Tech] crew is all about safety, taking care of the animal, and doing it as quickly as possible,” Kantar said.

The helicopter crew located the animals that had been previously scouted by Kantar and his crew, and in the span of 10 or 15 minutes they had completed their work and released the moose. The Aero Tech crew did not use drugs on the moose, opting instead to use a net gun that brought each moose to a halt.

Then two crew members called “muggers” jumped out of the hovering helicopter and went about their work.

“The whole procedure was really quick,” Kantar said. “They get the net untangled, get the animal in a good position, put the radio collar on, ear tag the animal, take blood and fecal samples, release them, get ‘em up, and they’re gone.”

“[The biological samples] are really a moment-in-time health assessment of those moose. It’s a snapshot of that,” Kantar said.

By looking at complex blood work that’s being done, for instance, Kantar said biologists will be able to deduce a moose’s relative health at time of capture. Fecal samples will allow biologists to test for various parasites. And a quick scan for winter ticks can be compared with data being collected in New Hampshire to gain a more complete look at potential issues that ticks may cause.

Kantar said if a moose dies, its collar will send a signal to him after it hasn’t moved for a predetermined amount of time. In that case, he and his colleagues will scramble to the scene and conduct an in-depth necropsy.

And this summer, Kantar said the next stage of the study will begin.

“In the late spring and summer, we’ll follow all of our cows,” he said. “When we’re detecting that they’re staying in one place and likely calving, we’ll wait a set period of time and then start to walk in on those to be able to detect cows with calves or cows without calves. And we’ll do that on a regular basis throughout the entire summer so we can see, ‘Is there a timetable for losing those calves that are born this year [and don’t survive]?’”

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