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Canadian Moose in New Zealand

Excerpt of story by Kennedy Warne

    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.

    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, forestcovered wilderness.

    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.

  • The complete article is in the July/August 2006 edition of Canadian Geographic magazine, which is still available at the Canadian Geographic Store.
  • The New Zealand Wildlife Trust has also produced a book and video about these moose, both entitled A Wild Moose Chase.