Naturalist Michael Runtz

Nov 15th, 2017 | By | Category: Connecting With, Featured

Michael Runtz is well known throughout Canada as one of the country’s true naturalists. His interest in wildlife goes back to when he was a small boy, when he held his first pair of binoculars. Since that time, he has authored many books and written countless articles on everything from birdwatching to Algonquin Park, and from rare plants to just about everything there is to do with Canada’s wildlife and natural resources.

A lecturer at Carleton University in the faculty of Biology, we wanted to talk to him specifically about Canada’s moose, which has been a prime interest of his for many years. Mary Cook asked Michael Runtz where his interest began, and to tell us some little known facts about this majestic animal.

Y@H: Do you remember when you saw your first moose, and is that when your interest began?

MR: I observed my first moose near Tea Lake in Algonquin Park in 1972. It was a large bull and we were driving behind it on a logging road in the Park. The sight of that giant beast running ahead of our vehicle certainly sparked my interest in these giant herbivores.

Y@H: How prevalent are moose in Eastern Ontario?

MR: Today they are much more common than they were 45 years ago, but they have gone through a decline in their numbers in the past decade or so.

Y@H: It’s called the largest living deer in the world … how much can a moose weigh when it is fully grown?

MR: Bulls are larger than cows, and a large bull in Ontario can weight more than 1,200 pounds. In Yukon the largest bull on record weighed 1,800 pounds. Now, that is a lot of bull!

Y@H: Does it have the same diet as the deer?

MR: In part. Both are vegetarians and both browse shrubs and woody material. But deer also graze low herbs while moose tend to eat more woody material. In winter, moose eat a lot of Balsam Fir while deer favour White Cedar. In summer, moose devour a lot of aquatic plants such as Water-shield for the sodium they contain, while deer tend to get their sodium from the ground.  

Y@H: Does it have a natural predator? How does it survive?

MR: Moose have two main predators: wolves and bears. Both Grizzly Bears and Black Bears are fond of moose calves while Gray Wolves and Eastern Wolves eat calves and adults, especially sick or injured ones. Female moose vigorously defend their young by kicking with their lethal hooves, which they also use to defend themselves against attackers.

Y@H: Has its numbers ever diminished to the point where its survival has been a concern?

MR: Moose numbers have declined in the East in recent years, and while the reasons for this are not yet clear, there is not yet serious concern for their survival.

Y@H: Have you seen moose anywhere else in Canada besides Ontario?

MR: Yes, I have seen moose in British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland. I recently spent a month in Jasper National Park working as a consultant to the documentary Twig Eater.

Y@H: It looks like such an awkward animal with its huge head, big snout and heavy antlers, just how agile is it?

MR: Despite their ungainly appearance, moose are actually quite agile in the forest. Bulls tilt their heads back when running in thick vegetation and the antlers behave like a snow plough when they push through vegetation.

Y@H: Did I once read one of your articles on the moose where you mentioned how a winter tick can cause the animal great distress?

MR: Moose have natural parasites and the Moose Tick is one of these. Normally found in small numbers on moose in winter (which is why they are also known as Winter Ticks), in some years they can be quite abundant, and while do not make a moose sick, can make it itch and attempt to dislodge the ticks by rubbing and biting off its fur. If, in late winter, excessive amounts of bare skin are exposed and the weather turns cold and wet, moose can die from hypothermia.

Y@H: Do they have single births?

MR: It all depends. If the population is small and resources are plentiful, a cow can have twins and rarely, triplets. But in higher densities or in terrain offering poor quality food, only one calf is the norm.

Y@H: With the hunting season upon us, how threatened is the moose population in our area?

MR: With lower numbers, at least in the East, any additional pressure such as hunting would not be good for them. However, each year quotas are issued for hunters based on the most recent population estimates, and the number of moose to be harvested is adjusted accordingly.

Y@H: How dangerous can a moose be if confronted by someone?

MR: Moose can be dangerous primarily at two times. Cows with very young calves can be defensive, and bulls during the rut (the mating season) can be dangerous to be near. The greatest danger, however, comes from encountering a moose on the road when driving at night.

Y@H: Have you ever been threatened by a moose?

MR: Yes, I used to call bulls in during the rut to photograph them for my book. Twice I was charged by bulls and both were terrifying experiences. On another occasion, a cow moose that had an injured baby chased me out of the woods. Another exciting experience!

Y@H: Has there ever been a count done on the number of moose?

MR: Yes, estimates of their population are often done in winter by aerial surveys or track surveys on the ground.

Y@H: Where is the best place to be if one wants to see this majestic animal?

MR: Moose are most easily seen in early spring in ditches along northern highways when they are gleaning winter road salt from the mud and water in the ditch.

Y@H: You have written extensively on Canada’s moose, is your book still available?

MR: Moose Country is still available!

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