Tick-infested moose a 1st for Cree territory in Northern Quebec

A parasite wreaking havoc on moose populations in southern Quebec has been found for the first time in Cree territory, prompting local officials to ask hunters to be on the lookout.

Moose meat still safe to eat, say Cree officials

A tick infected moose can experience fur loss, poor physical condition, scabs and bleeding wounds from excessive grooming which are mostly observed toward the end of winter, according to Emily Sinave, wildlife biologist with the Cree Nation Government. (MFFP)

A deadly parasite infecting moose populations in southern Quebec has been found for the first time in Cree territory, prompting local officials to ask hunters to be on the lookout.

Back in 2014, the Quebec government collected data which found that winter ticks infected three-quarters of the moose surveyed south of the 50th parallel. Below the St. Lawrence River, that percentage climbed to 93 per cent.

But recently, two moose were killed and found infected with these ticks in northern Quebec, on islands in the Eastmain River near traplines VC 33, VC 32 and RE 3. 

"This is the first time it's been reported [in Cree territory]," said Fred Tomatuk, president of the Cree Trappers Association.

A closer look at the winter ticks affecting 93 per cent of the moose population in Quebec below the St. Lawrence River. (Serge Simoneau/Linda Brochu)

The tick lodges itself in the animal's fur in the fall and feeds off its blood through the winter.

The main visible symptoms are fur loss, poor physical condition, scabs and bleeding wounds from the excessive grooming which are mostly observed toward the end of winter, according to Emily Sinave, wildlife biologist with the Cree Nation Government.

"Severe infestation can also affect the behaviour which can make them more vulnerable to predators, road accidents and, in extreme cases, directly induce mortality," said Sinave.

"Young moose are particularly vulnerable."

Sinave says warmer temperatures in the spring in Eeyou Istchee could make ticks more of an issue in the Cree territory. Winter ticks thrive in the shorter, warmer winters, which have become more prevalent in recent years.

Meat, hide and fur safe: Cree government

The meat from an infected moose can be safely eaten, according to Sinave. But she asks hunters to take precautions when handling carcasses, such as wearing long sleeved clothing and applying insecticide.

The hide and fur is also okay to use and the fur can be prepared without problems once it's bagged and put in the freezer for a time, according to the Cree government.

The female winter tick is much larger than the male. (Découverte Radio Canada)

The Cree Trappers Association says it has concerns about the spread of this parasite and plan to come up with a strategy in the months ahead.

The association is asking hunters to record the time, date and location of any animal they harvest that shows signs of being infested with the tick.

"Try to get as much information as you can," said Fred Tomatuk.

"Keep some of the hide, and if you can't, take a lot of pictures and report it immediately."