Featured on the Canadian quarter (25 cent coin), the moose is an iconic Canadian animal. Found throughout Canada, including the Rockies, moose sightings are often much anticipated events for visitors.
The largest living species in the deer family, moose are distinguished by the large, leaf-shaped antlers of males. Moose are herbivores, and their diet consists of both land and water vegetation. Unlike other deer species, moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Mating season (Autumn) is an exception, when moose can often be found in small groups. While moose are generally slow-moving and sedentary animals, they can move quickly. Typically, moose are not aggressive towards humans, but they will charge when provoked or frightened. Comparing numbers, in Canada moose attack more people than wolves and bears combined; worldwide only hippos attack more humans. But, moose attacks rarely result in serious or permanent injury. The name “moose” is North American, since while moose are also found in the United Kingdom, there they are known as elk. “Elk” refers to a different animal in North America, so the name “moose” was used (the name is taken from different Native American dialects).
The key identifier of a male moose is their antlers, which are made of bone and grow on the top of their head. Bull moose (male moose) have long, often leaf-shaped, antlers with several ‘branches’. The size and growth rate of antlers is determined by their age and diet. Cows (female moose) select their mate based on the size of the males’ antlers. During mating season, bull moose use displays of their antlers to discourage competition and fight rivals, which can result in fights between males competing for a female. After the mating season, males drop their antlers to conserve energy for the winter. A new set of antlers will re-grow in the spring; these new antlers take 3 – 5 months to fully develop.
Moose are indigenous to North America (as well as the UK, and some parts of Scandinavia). Moose meat was often a staple in the diet of many Native Americans, and was frequently included in pemmican (a type of dried food made to be eaten during winter or on long journeys). The moose population in Canada has declined since the 1990s – the exact reason for this is unknown, but is linked to a variety of factors, including: change in habitat, heat stress caused by climate change, and poaching. Recent efforts to conserve the moose population has led to a re-introduction of moose into their natural habitat.
Photos courtesy of: Travel Alberta and Tourism Jasper.