Climate and Survival? Moose: Life of a Twig Eater [PREVIEW], streaming on PBS [WATCH]
Moose: Life of a Twig Eater is a documentary that follows a mother moose and her calf through a year in the gorgeous but sometimes dangerous wilds of Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Moose are one of the continent's largest (and most winsomely awkward) creatures, its most sizable deer, and they are in serious decline.
In this sensitively observed motion picture with plenty of good science information, naturalist and cameraman Hugo Kitching is sometimes hard-pressed to keep up with the two moose in the tough-going, rocky landscape of Jasper. The film, by filmmaker Susan Fleming, also has updates from the Minnesota border with Ontario, where biologist Dr. Seth Moore tags and studies the even more fiercely declining Minnesota moose.
You can tune in to watch the mother and calf moose and Kitching screening on PBS. The film's sequences are scored by some lovely music by Toronto composers TTG Music, some of them featuring vocals from Mary Margaret O'Hara. DVDs are also available of the film. (Scroll down for audio, video and more of the article)
Watching is the least we can do for Kitching, who was out in the wild for 13 months. He tracked a mother moose and her calf through snow, up mountainsides, and alongside mountain lakes that by August are finally warm enough for a moose to dive and drag up the mineral-rich plants whose nutrients the animal can store for months. He followed the deep footprints of wolf packs, noted that bears are moose calves' most common predator, and talked about the importance for a calf to learn from a good mother, bulk up over the summer, and know how to recognize bears.
We learn in the film that summer for a moose is one long bulking session -- you'd do that too if you might have to eat twigs all winter, and if winter was five months of successive weight loss. In the green days, a moose calf can gain 2-4 pounds a day until winter. In the winter, a moose can eat 8,000-9,000 twigs a day for sustenance, Kitching notes in the film.
In Minnesota, we follow along as Dr. Moore and another researcher tag a moose calf and breathlessly wait for its mother to return for it. While mothers always have circled back in Moore's research, he notes that it's always a concern: Whether a mother will be too frightened to loop back for her calf and will abandon it. We also hear about the climate-warming dangers of brainworm and winter ticks. In the latter case, moose can contract hypothermia from rubbing their fur off while trying to remove ticks; they can also develop anemia from blood loss.
There are many trials, and it is a wild world. Greater populations of deer have attracted more predators in many areas. But watching Kitching and the mother moose and her calf is reason enough for hope. These are animals who make it through difficult conditions for most of the year, pursued by fierce dangers. A plucky calf's interaction onscreen with a huge-antlered bull moose shows just one of several perilous connections in its life. And yet there is time to loll in August sunlight while plucking sodium-rich plants from a mountain pond's depths.
That said, moose are in decline. If you'd like to do more about that, here is one of several places to go.
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