||July/August 2006 issue||
Canadian moose introduced into New Zealand survived for decades,
then disappeared. One man’s obsessive search has now turned up
proof they are still out there.
Excerpt of story by Kennedy Warne
New Zealand’s moose story has its beginnings in the snows of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the winter of
1909, acting on a request from the New Zealand government, the Canadian government authorized
the capture of 17 moose calves, which were transported to what is now Elk Island National
Park, east of Edmonton, and reared on cow’s milk and willow brush. Ten of them — six
females and four males — were shipped to New Zealand for release into one of the wildest,
wettest, most remote parts of the country: Fiordland, a million hectares of glacier-carved,
By the time they were released on April 6, 1910, the calves were about 10 months old and
as tame as pets. When they viewed the mountainous terrain and dense forest at the head of
Dusky Sound, and perhaps felt the bite of Fiordland’s hordes of sandflies, liberty
seemed to lose its appeal. Several calves "returned to their crates, until we upended
them," wrote one member of the release party. The reluctant animals eventually made
their way into the forests and out of sight, to form what is believed to be the only wild
moose population outside the species’ natural range in North America’s northern
forests, from Alaska to Newfoundland and Labrador.
This was actually the second attempt to establish a moose herd in New Zealand. The first happened
a few hundred kilometres north of Fiordland in 1900. Four animals were released (10 had died
during a storm on the voyage from Canada to New Zealand), and only one semi-tame cow survived.
This hapless beast was occasionally spotted wandering, "Northern Exposure"-like,
through the streets of the local settlement for the next 14 years.
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