A moose calf shows signs of winter tick infestation after rubbing hair off to dislodge blood-filled ticks. Animals with extreme infestations are called “ghost moose,” a condition that is likely fatal. (Eric Becker)

A moose calf shows signs of winter tick infestation after rubbing hair off to dislodge blood-filled ticks. Animals with extreme infestations are called “ghost moose,” a condition that is likely fatal. (Eric Becker)

A new method of getting medicine to moose shut down

Volunteer says he was told to stop by Ministry of Environment

The volunteers behind a pilot project to help moose recover from winter ticks in Smithers have decided to end it for this year after the Ministry of Environment told them they didn’t have the right permits.

Eric Becker is part of a group of concerned citizens that were trying to get medicine to infected moose in their natural habitat.

“About a year ago I was talking with the Wildlife for Tomorrow group, a non-profit that it is interested in the sustainability of the wildlife population in the area,” he said. “A group of us were concerned that the provincial people, experts didn’t have any ability to treat infested moose but they were busy collecting data around it. We decided to come up with ways to do that.”

He said an online search only showed up the owner of Northern Wildlife Shelter Angelika Langen’s idea to use paintball guns with powder to shoot medicine onto moose.

“That was the only thing we could find anywhere in the world. We decided to try dispensing medicine with a drone,” Becker said.

He said it took a year to get the appropriate agencies involved, like the Provincial Veterinary Association, local conservation office and community resources board. He said they were all very supportive of the plan.

“They are all providing support so we can go and do trial applications,” he added before getting a call from the Ministry of Environment.

Before he was told to stop, they had tried the new method on about half a dozen moose.

“We dispense medication from a drone. People call in about locations of infested moose, we fly over the moose, get quite close and drop the medication on to the moose,” he said.

He wasn’t worried about the drones spooking the moose but he said someone from the Ministry of Environment said they were harassing wildlife and must stop.

“It is all on video. There is no reaction from the moose prior to dropping, but once the liquid drops on them, they startle a bit. But it is a matter of them taking a couple of steps and stopping and looking around.”

Becker said he is disappointed they have had to stop.

“The ministry needs all the paperwork in place and we don’t just have the time and the incentive to fight that bureaucracy just yet,” he said.

Becker said on a bad tick year, up to 40 per cent of the previous year’s calves won’t make it to the their first birthday because of ticks. For adults, it is slower. On a bad tick year it is maybe 20 per cent that don’t live through the infestation.

And infected mooose shows abnormal behaviour such grooming itself excessively, appearing lost or confused and may stop eating. Moose can also appear thin, have hair loss and have visible wounds.

A total of six moose were given medicine.

“Four of those have been set up to be monitored for the spring. We’ll see how effective it is. As a trial, it is still okay, it isn’t as big of a data base as we should’ve had. It is still okay, we’ll still get some information.”

He is hoping to start again next year and make it more of an official project with all the right agencies and permits in place.

The Ministry of Environment did not return an Interior News request for an interview, however, the minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson said this sounds like a great project.

“The engagement with out ministry is that our staff is willing to co-develop the program with them in order to prove out its scientific validity and make sure that First Nations are engaged as well,” Donaldson added.

A spokesperson with the ministry said staff were informed about a project that uses a drone to dispense medicine to aid in the recovery of moose that are infected with ticks.

“Ministry staff value the idea and thought behind the project. However, it is necessary to follow provincial laws and seek appropriate authorizations prior to taking on work that occurs on public land and/or involves wildlife. Provincial biologists have been in communication with the proponents to provide direction on the feasibility of the work and implementation requirements. To date, a formal application has not been made by the proponents.”

Smithers Interior News