The cow moose moves off after being immobilized and fitted with a GPS collar. The collar is programmed to automatically fall off the animal in three years.
(Gillette, Wyo.) Collaring season for the Big Horn Mountain moose population is underway with Wyoming Game and Fish officials having already immobilized and fitted a cow moose above Park Reservoir with a GPS collar Tuesday morning.
The effort is part of an ongoing, multi-year study of moose in the Big Horn Mountains that will provide information regarding population dynamics and seasonal habitat use.
“By knowing what habitats they are using, we can look at the quality of habitats and get an idea on how many animals can be supported out there,” said Tim Thomas, Sheridan district wildlife biologist.
Additionally, researchers know that winter is important to the moose population, and the information transmitted by the collars will show researchers if they need to protect certain areas from disturbances or limit public access to others.
In total, 60 cow moose will need to be fitted with collars for researchers to gain an accurate overview of the general population.
“While that may seem like a lot in one area, you have to remember [the moose population] is scattered across both sides of the mountains,” said Thomas.
The number is also the maximum number of collars allowed with the current budget for the program, which is currently run in conjunction with the University of Wyoming.
The collars themselves are a step above the old radio collars. These new GPS collars contact satellites every few hours and periodically upload data that researchers can observe.
“It’s not quite in real time, but it’s relatively close to real time,” Thomas said.
The collars remain in place for a period of three years, after which a drop off mechanism will activate, dropping the collar at its last known location.
“Then, we can collect the collar and download all the data” that failed to upload, said Thomas.
The collaring window, however, is limited.
“Each year, the period gets smaller and smaller for when we can do this,” explained Thomas.
Game and fish officials only collar cow moose from the beginning of August through the end of February, suspending any collaring efforts during hunting season.
By the first of April, cow moose are entering the last trimester of any pregnancies.
“You don’t want to be handling them then,” Thomas stated.
Between the months of June and July, cow moose are accompanied by their young calves, and the risk of a cow abandoning a calf is too high for researchers to risk any collaring efforts.
Bull moose are off the table as well. Thomas said that their larger necks, with their tendency to swell, make it difficult to fit them with collars. Additionally, bull moose “joust” with one another other, running the risk of hooking a collar.
“There’s just a lot of problems with collaring bulls, so females are a lot easier. You get better data,” explained Thomas.
With the cow that was fitted with a collar on Tuesday, only seven more are needed before the total number of 60 collared moose is attained. The WGFD expressed hope that the remaining seven will be placed on moose this week.