Paintball guns could help tick-infested moose

A Smithers wildlife shelter is investigating whether paintball guns could be used to shoot treatment powder at moose with tick infestations.

A Smithers wildlife shelter is investigating whether paintball guns could be used to shoot treatment powder at moose with tick infestations.

Winter ticks are a common problem for B.C. moose populations, which are believed to be declining in some parts of the province.

Infestations are believed to reduce survival rates in affected populations but there is no known treatment.

That’s why the Northern Lights Wildlife Society and shelter in Smithers is looking into innovative solutions to help the animals.

Owner Angelika Langen said she had contacted the University of Northern B.C. to help her look into the feasibility of using paintball guns to shoot cattle lice powder at the rumps of affected animals.

“We are trying to figure out if we can create a paintball gun with powder in it which we could shoot onto the moose and it would disperse the powder and that would kill the ticks,” said Langen.

“It’s just an idea and it is in its infant stages so we are a long way away from having something but [we are doing it] because it’s such a serious problem and because it’s believed to cause a lot of death.

“Ticks can take a lot out of the moose.”

Langen said cattle lice powder had been successful treating moose that live at the shelter property, although it had not been administered with a gun.

She stressed the concept might not work and more information was needed before it could be safely tested.

A paintball company is also helping the shelter look into the concept.

Biologist Mike Bridger is running the Moose Winter Tick Surveillance Program, launched last week by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Aimed at identifying the impact that winter ticks are having on moose throughout the province, it asks the public to report sightings of infested moose through an online survey.

They can be identified because the ticks cause them to lose hair.

Bridger said using paintball guns to treat wild animals would be difficult to do on a big scale but he was open to Langen’s idea.

“I think it’s an innovative idea, something worth pursuing maybe, looking into more because as of now there is really not a whole lot of treatment options for moose directly,” he said.

Until a solution is found, he said his project would help the ministry investigate how ticks are distributed and the severity of infestations in different regions.

The survey asks participants to observe the amount of hair loss on the animal they saw by checking a box which best described it, ranging from “no loss” to “ghost.”

Bridger said it was believed the problem was more common and severe in the Smithers area but moose ticks posed no danger to humans.

Meat from infected animals was also safe, he said.

Winter tick infestations usually occur between February and April.

To obtain a copy of the survey contact Mike Bridger at bridger@unbc.ca or phone 250-961-5869.

The survey can also be found online at www.env.gov.bc.ca.