Outdoor Alaska: Kenai Moose Research Center continues decades of advancing science
North of Sterling in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, 18 moose are living their lives under the watchful eyes of Alaska Department of Fish & Game research biologists.
The Kenai Moose Research Center has been fundamental in expanding what wildlife managers know about moose since it was built in the 1960s.
The center has four 1-square-mile pens that are currently home to three bulls, 10 cows and five calves.
This year the bulls and cows are separated because the researchers do not need more animals nor are they currently studying pregnant females, yet the animals still have their natural drive to reproduce during the rut.
"There's occasionally bulls fighting through the fence, on opposite sides of the fence, tearing the fence down, getting into trouble trying to get over the fence to where the females are. They're pretty adamant about getting in," ADF&G research biologist John Crouse said.
During the rut, the neck on bull moose increases in size, which has historically created difficulties for using tracking collars. Now, the research center is testing a collar design that allows for the bull to grow over its years, and also accommodate enlargement during the rut while contracting when the animal's neck shrinks.
"Their muscles get engorged with blood and the diameter of the neck swells several times its normal size outside of the breeding period. Because of that, it's hard to put a fixed diameter collars on a bull and not have that cause problems on the animal's neck, or be too loose and fall off," Crouse said.
The researchers placed the collar on one bull when it was 10 months old. Crouse says the buckle on the original prototype broke during the first mating season, but an improved buckle has lasted the last two years. Crouse says they hope for the collar to last five years.
"Those are the types of things that we can evaluate here before we go ahead and put them on wild animals that we can't regularly observe," Crouse said. "That's the focus of our work, is developing techniques and methods that we can use to help us manage wild populations."