TELLURIDE — With some luck, the rare sighting of two moose near Lizard Head, a male and a female, could be the precursor of more to come, but not because other adults will migrate here to join them.
“The way moose occur in most of southwest Colorado is very dispersed and low density,” said Scott Wait, senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado Division of Wildlife in Durango.
“There are a couple on each drainage.”
The Watch received pictures of the pair grazing in a San Bernardo wetland that were taken one morning last week.
It is not readily apparent from where the duo originally comes; neither animal appeared to be wearing the ear-tags and radio collars marking moose transplanted to the Grand Mesa in a multi-year reintroduction project that began in 2005.
Wait suggested that they could also have arrived in the area from the La Garita Mountains, south of Gunnison, where other moose, mostly without radio collars, were transplanted in 2008.
“The most logical area for these [two moose] to have come from is the upper Rio Grand or San Juan Mountains area,” he said.
Rather than having been transplanted to Colorado from elsewhere, Wait suggested the two moose are likely offspring produced by transplanted moose.
“I would suspect they were produced from one of several populations,” he said.
While moose are believed to have wandered into Colorado from other places like Utah and Wyoming, until the CDOW began introducing them into the state during the 1970s there was no breeding population in the state of the solitary and slow-to-reproduce animal, according to the agency’s website.
After releasing moose from Utah into North Park near Walden in 1978, the agency released a dozen more into the Illinois River drainage, also in North Park, in 1979.
Some of those moose moved into the Laramie River Valley and, in 1987, an additional 12 animals were brought in from Wyoming.
By 1991 the North Park population was doing well enough that officials were able to relocate some animals to the upper Rio Grande drainage, near Creede.
In 2005 and 2006, moose from Utah were transplanted to the Grand Mesa, and in the summer of 2008 the CDOW began supplementing a small herd in the La Garita mountains south of Gunnison with animals from Utah.
The local sighting indicates the animal may be extending its range, which Wait called a “good healthy sign for any wildlife population.”
It is not unusual to see moose in the Cimarron drainage east of Ridgway, but for them “to cross [Highway] 550 is a little more unusual,” said Wait.
If the animals had both been males, he said, they would both very likely wander out of the area in search of mates or of suitable habitat.
But since one of the pair is a female (who tend to roam within a smaller range), there’s a good chance the male’s wanderlust may be tempered.
Moose breed in late September and early October and calve in late May through early June.
So next year, who knows?
“We might see some calves,” said Wait.