An orphaned moose calf from the Sudbury, Ontario region has been healing in animal sanctuaries since spring, but officials still can’t say whether or not she’ll ever be released back into the wild.
Ella was found orphaned in May, and her journey to recovery has been documented in the media ever since. But despite the constant care she’s received from wildlife sanctuaries, along with an outpour of public support, her future remains uncertain.
“They’re just a very sensitive animal,” said Janalene Kingshott, director of animal care at Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Rosseau, Ontario.
Ella is now in the care of Aspen Valley, but she was originally at the Wild At Heart Wildlife Refuge Centre in Lively, Ontario, where workers expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s very difficult bringing up moose calves,” head veterinarian Rod Jouppi told CBC last year.
Like many animals, the first few months of their lives can be critical. Never receiving their mother’s milk can make them more susceptible to infection, and according to Jouppi, moose are particularly prone to injury. He says that because they’re a prey species, their bones are soft enough for other animals, like wolves, to chew.
In fact, Ella broke her leg in September from merely “loping in her paddock,” which resulted in two separate surgeries.
“She didn’t catch it, she didn’t hit it,” Jouppi told CBC. “It just happened when she was walking at a brisk pace.” She’s still not putting weight on that leg, but Kingshott says they’ll give her as much time as she needs to heal.
“It’s very high stress for them to be somewhere they’re not supposed to be,” Kingshott told CBC News. “They need an awful lot of nurturing. They don’t like to be left on their own. So if you have a single moose calf you have to spend a lot of time with it.”
And though it might sound like an uncomfortable and high-stress situation for any animal, some are more adaptable than others. According to Kingshott, raccoons are much better at adjusting to new environments and tend to do very well in recovery. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case for moose calves.
But they’re not faring much better in the wild. The first year of life is toughest for calves, and many are not surviving this vulnerable period.
“They are easy prey for wolves and bears, and many succumb to diseases and other health issues,” Seth Moore, a wildlife biologist who works at the Grand Portage Trust Lands in Minnesota, told CBC.
These are just a few of the factors contributing to North America’s low moose populations, which have been declining at an alarming rate. In Manitoba, for instance, there are now less than 20,000 moose, which is less than half of where the population was during its historical high of 45,000.
But Manitoba isn’t the only province seeing low numbers. They’ve also been dropping in regions like Jasper National Park, which has been attributed to deadly liver fluke, wolves, and railway and highway collisions on the tracks and roads that run through the park.
Currently, there’s no telling whether or not Ella will be rereleased into the wild, but they have big plans for her at the sanctuary too: she might be able to nurture future orphaned calves that are brought in. Kingshott also hopes that her story helps educate the public about what’s happening to moose populations right now.