SPOKANE – The orphaned moose calf that was under the care of a wildlife rehabilitator since its rescue last month was returned to the wild last weekend by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and volunteers from the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council (INWC).
The moose, named "Dusty," after the small town in Whitman County near where it was found, was released northwest of Mount Spokane with two other moose that were removed from a suburban Spokane Valley neighborhood.
Those moose, a mother and her nine-month-old female calf had been residing in a residential area for the past six weeks. But the pair never wandered back to less developed habitat, as WDFW officials expected them to, and started visiting the Trentwood Elementary School playground. WDFW officials felt children might be at risk from the naturally protective mother moose, and decided to relocate the pair.
At the same time, wildlife rehabilitator and veterinarian Luther McConnell told WDFW officials that nine-month old Dusty was ready for release and might have a better chance of survival if released with the other moose.
Dusty and the cow-calf pair were marked with radio telemetry equipment before release to allow monitoring of their movements.
Dusty was found Feb. 2 near its dead mother in a wheat stubble field. Since the young animal was unwilling to leave the area and seek food in more suitable habitat, WDFW officials decided to remove it and place it in rehabilitation.
A final report on the cause of the cow moose death was inconclusive, although the necropsy at Washington State University's veterinary science school laboratory showed no signs of gunshot wounds or external trauma.
In the five weeks under McConnell's care, Dusty grew rapidly on a steady diet of donated winter moose "browse" – pruned stems and buds of willow, aspen, fruit, and other trees. Dusty also ate many pounds of donated apples and other fruit, plus formulated moose chow.
A moose food donation drive was established by INWC after Dusty was picked up. The drive collected $875 in cash donations for Dusty. Since Purina, Inc., through Flager Feeds in Spokane, donated about $170 in moose chow, INWC will use the money instead to build a paneled corral for future rehabilitation of moose and other large wildlife.