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Feature Article - October 20, 2005

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Feature Article

October 20, 2005

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ArchiveImage GalleryAlgonquin Land Claims

Gray MerriamLegaleseGeneral information and opinion on legal topics by Rural Legal ServicesNature Reflectionsby Jean GriffinNight Skiesby Leo Enright

Nature Reflections:Algonquin Park

by JeanGriffin

Visiting Algonquin Park is always a pleasure at any time of the year, but visiting in the autumn is especially wonderful when the red and gold maple leaves, the bronzed crimson of the oak trees, and the yellows of the birches blend with the deep green of the evergreens, the soft green of the tamarack, the various colours of the sumac and the browns of the ferns and other dying plants. Aswe travelled through the park on Thanksgiving weekend, it was apparent that the colours were slightly past their peak, though still glistening in the rain and still glorious.

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A stop at the Visitor’s Centre gave a brief glimpse of a distant mother Black Bear and her cub as they followed the creek seeking food. But it was the sighting of a Moose quite close to one of the side roads that was the highlight. Normally seen nearer to dusk, this one was out midday. Undisturbed by hunters, and quite unruffled by the people from three cars that had stopped, the female was up to her belly in the water, first drinking, then immersing her head as she searched for and found some water plants to chew upon.

(click image for full view) As a herbivore she was preparing for the coming winter by feeding on the still available water plants. Winter would mean a change in her diet to woody plants, usually birch, willow, maple or aspen. Apparently the name ‘moose’ is derived from a native word ‘mooswa’ which means ‘the animal that strips bark off the trees’, though another source says it comes from a word that means ‘eater of twigs’. In the spring the diet will include grazing on sedges, grasses and horsetail, and then back to the plants in the pond and leaves of her favourite trees.

This largest member of the deer family is impressive with its long legs, heavy body and drooping nose. Since this was a female, it did not have the magnificent antler rack that is the pride of a male. There had been a report of a bull, female and two calves on the same road earlier that day, but there was no sign of other animals here. Had the bull already impregnated this female and she was now able to return to her normal lonelylife in the wild, or was this a different female?

Mating season lasts from mid-September through October.Gestation for a Moose is eight months, so sometime from mid-May to June this female will probably give birth to a single (sometimes twins) baby weighing in at 13 to 16 kg. Then it would not be wise to be too close to her, as she will vigorously defend her baby. The young Moose will start to eat solid food in a few days but suckling lasts for up to six months - weaning takes place by or during breeding season - and the young animal stays with its mother for close to a year at which time the mother aggressively chases her offspring from the immediate area, just before she gives birth.

What will the winter hold for this female? Deep crusted snow can lead to malnutrition and subsequent death. If the area has a large population of Moose, they can become infected with a parasitic brain worm, which leads to a slow, painful death. Ticks are another pest that can cause animals to rub themselves almost bare as they try to rid themselves of this annoyance. I hope that this animal survives, healthy, and with a calf, and may again be seen next year somewhere in the park.

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