Minnesota Zoo rescues abandoned moose calves - KMSP-TV

Minnesota Zoo rescues abandoned moose calves

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APPLE VALLEY, Minn. (KMSP) -

The moose population in Minnesota is dropping drastically, and no one seems to know why -- but while the chances of seeing a moose in the wild keep dwindling, the odds of spotting one at the zoo are a sure bet.

"They really are a symbol of the wild and nature here in this state," Tony Fisher, of the Minnesota Zoo, told Fox 9 News.

WATCH: Moose calves at Minnesota Zoo

The zoo recently took in half a dozen moose calves after they were abandoned by their mothers in the wild. According to Fisher, Mother Nature's loss is the zoo's gain. Yet, the new arrivals mark another chapter in a growing puzzle.

"This whole moose issue is perplexing," wildlife researcher Lou Cornicelli admitted.

In Canada and Alaska, the moose populations are thriving. In this state, however, about 15 percent of the herd is lost each year. Four years ago, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources began conducting field research on adult moose mortality -- but when they began to look at why calves weren't surviving, they noticed something unexpected.

According to Cornicelli, the 8-week-old calves were abandoned after researchers fitted them with radio collars to try and understand why their numbers are in decline.

"We hear a lot that the wolves are doing it, or we hear that climate change is doing it," he said. "It's probably a combination of everything."

When researchers prepared to tag the calves, they had expected the cows to become aggressive because moose are known for defending their young; however, that didn't happen.

"What we found was the opposite," Cornicelli said. "We found that the cows in Minnesota tend to run. They tend to leave. They tend to go several miles from their calf, and then they come back."

The DNR estimates that there are about 4,000 moose in northeastern Minnesota, about half the population recorded in 2006. Whatever the cause may be, the youngsters now calling the Minnesota Zoo home may have a better chance of survival in captivity.

"We're pleased that there was a place for those animals to go," Cornicelli conceded. "The zoo needed moose, so it kind of worked out in the end. It's not our ideal situation, but I think the outcome will be good for a lot of people in the state because they'll get to see moose that they wouldn't see otherwise."

The DNR has changed their protocols after they noticed the number of orphaned calves; however, they insist that the research is not contributing to the mortality rate.

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