Bull Shiras Moose in Jackson Hole, Wy

Shiras Moose in Jackson Hole, Wy

In North America we have four different subspecies of moose throughout the northern United States and Canada. Populations of Moose spread from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast and from the Arctic all the way down to small isolated populations in southern Colorado and Utah. The word moose comes from the Algonquin word “Mooswa” meaning “animal that strips bark off trees.” In winter when food sources are limited moose eat bark and other woody materials to help get them through harsh winters. Moose are the largest members of the deer family with A.a. gigas found in Alaska being the largest subspecies and largest deer on earth. Even though moose can weigh up to a ton they can run at 35mph and swim at 6mph. Because they look lethargic people think they are relatively harmless but they injure many people each year. I have seen a moose chase a person around a tree for getting too close. There was a interesting article in the Huffington Post entitled Assume Every Moose is a Serial Killer just to raise awarement that they are dangerous animals. That title basically sums it up. The following is a little description of each of the four types of moose we have here in North America. If you want to see maps of their demographics or read more about them click on the lime green links.

The first species of moose that was discovered in North America was A.a. americana subspecies. This species was discovered in 1822 and after a period of intense hunting, more regulation has attributed to steady population growth. Population of A.a. americana are as much as 330,000 in the maritime provinces and northeastern states.

The next subspecies to be discovered in North America is A.a. gigas. Gigas is a Greek work meaning giant which is fitting because it is the largest of all moose. This subspecies was distinguished in 1899 and is found mainly in Alaska. Populations of A.a. gigas is as much as 220,000 animals. A.a. gigas can get nearly double the size of the Shiras moose we have here in Wyoming.

The Shiras moose or A.a. shirasi is the smallest subspecies and is found in the western states including Colorado and Utah where isolated populations exist. The Shiras moose has by far the smallest population numbers at only 25,000 animals. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population numbers have been in decline since the fires of 1988 when nearly a third of Yellowstone National Park went up in flames. Because of the fires, a lot of the food sources the moose depended on were destroyed for many rears resulting in a higher than average winter die off. Also since the wolves have been reintroduced in 1994 the populations of moose have been in decline. A wolf or even a pack of wolves would find it difficult to take down a full grown moose but a moose calf is not a challenge. In recent years moose have been birthing only one calf per year to try and improve success where in years past two calves were not uncommon. Prior to 1900 moose never use to be in Jackson Hole. Since we removed all wolves for about 100 years the moose were able to move back into the area. Now that they are back, it would not be surprising if we loose our Jackson Hole moose population in the nearer future.

A subspecies that was differentiated last has the largest population numbers. There are roughly 410,000 A.a. andersoni which was discovered in 1950. They range across most of Canada with small populations dipping down into the mid-western states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota. There are very few moose in Wisconsin (probably less that 100) but in Minnesota there are as many as 8,000 animals.

Those are the four types of moose you might run into wandering across the northern part of North America. Populations of moose are pretty healthy in most the region now with tighter regulation on hunting. With the reintroduction of wolves and other ecological changes, populations are dwindling in some areas but rising in others but overall populations are healthy.

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