Majority of B.C. moose at risk from potentially deadly ticks

A new report from the B.C. government indicates nearly two-thirds of moose in the province are infected with potentially fatal winter ticks.

Ticks cause hair loss and drain blood, making it difficult for moose to survive cold winters

The OMNRF's Kowalski said moose harvest plans in the northwest of Ontario included a calculated margin of error not used elsewhere in the province. (Justin Hoffman)

A new study indicates nearly two-thirds of moose in British Columbia are infected with a potentially deadly tick.

Michael Bridger led the study for the provincial Ministry of Forests, Land, and Natural Resources. He said though the ticks are not always fatal, they can cause severe problems.

"Each female [tick] in the winter can take up to two millilitres of blood, so if you had, say, thousands and thousands of female ticks on a moose then they could be losing upwards of ten, twenty, thirty, forty litres of blood over the course of a month or two," he said.

"That has some pretty clear implications for [the moose's] survival."

A closer look at the winter ticks affecting up to 61 per cent of the moose in British Columbia. (Serge Simoneau/Linda Brochu)

Bridger and his team recorded the rates of hair loss in moose, a trait associated with the winter ticks. From January 1 through to April 30, 2016, 61 per cent of moose observed had hair loss.

That number is up from 50 per cent in 2015, though Bridger cautions the increase does not necessarily mean more moose are infected.

He says ticks are naturally occurring, but it appears warmer weather may be affecting where and how many of them are found.

"We suspect with climate change we may be finding ticks in places that we haven't found them before, and the severity of the infestations may be increasing as well."

Most of the moose with ticks were seen in northern British Columbia. Seventy-three per cent of the moose observed in the Peace (northeast) region appeared to be infected, while the Skeena (northwest) and Omineca (Prince George) regions had infection rates of 56 and 53 per cent, respectively.

Bridger said the study is a continuation of the province's efforts to understand and manage British Columbia's declining moose population. 

"Moose are an extremely important species in B.C., to First Nations, to local hunters, to guide outfitters and so on," he said. "So it's a species we definitely want to be focusing on right now."

The full 2016 report on the provincial moose winter tick surveillance program is available on the B.C. government's website.

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