First rabid moose in state history discovered in Alaska

The first moose to test positive for rabies in Alaska was dispatched last week by ADF&G.
Published: Jun. 11, 2023 at 3:49 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TELLER, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) - The first moose to be diagnosed with rabies in Alaska was confirmed Monday by the state’s Department of Fish and Game.

Department officials killed the moose after it was seen wandering through the community of Teller in Western Alaska and charging towards people.

Alaska Wildlife Biologist Sara Germain, who specializes in wildlife in the Nome area, said Fish and Game received reports on June 2 of the moose acting strangely around Teller with injuries on its side.

“That moose was being aggressive towards people and charging and getting a little bit too close to comfort for them,” Germain said. “So because those are all signs of rabies, we decided to dispatch the animal and take the head and some other samples to try and see what was wrong with it.”

The moose was dispatched on the same day by officials with Fish and Game and was confirmed to have tested positive for rabies on June 6 by the department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a press release from Fish and Game.

After the samples were taken, Fish and Game coordinated with the City of Teller to burn the carcass.

While this was the first moose to be diagnosed with rabies in Alaska, there have been previous occurrences in South Dakota, Minnesota, Canada, and Russia.

After determining the animal was infected with the rabies virus, Fish and Game said it will begin to start testing all wild mammals found dead or euthanized for the rabies virus.

Alaska State Veterinarian Bob Gerlach and Alaska Wildlife Veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen both said the moose was most likely bitten by a fox with the rabies virus, leading to it contracting the disease.

“This past winter, red foxes from the Nome and surrounding area — including Teller — there were 66 tested in total, and 28.8% were positive,” Beckmen said.

In a normal year, Beckmen said about 3-5% of red foxes tested will have rabies, and about 15% will test positive during an outbreak.

Germain says one possibility for the high amount of rabies cases is a large fox population. It usually follows higher lemming populations, which are prey for foxes to feed on.

While it is extremely unlikely to encounter a moose with rabies, the department advises wearing protective gloves, washing hands and equipment after handling wild game, and cooking wild game to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

The department asks that if someone does encounter a wild animal exhibiting signs of rabies, or carcasses of wild animals, they contact the state so that they may test for rabies.

“We’re going to begin testing all mammals that come out of Northwest Alaska, and other parts of the endemic region, for fox rabies,” Beckmen said. “So that includes Southwest Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula, and the North Slope. We’ll test all mammals now.”

Fish and Game also advises that vaccinating pets is the best way to protect domesticated animals and the larger community from the rabies virus, as they are much more likely to come in contact with a rabid animal.