©Warren Harris
Wildlife officials haven't been able to find a cause for a mysterious disease that is killing moose on Newfoundland's northern peninsula.

Saint John - A mysterious disease that has killed a number of moose on Newfoundland's northern peninsula has left provincial wildlife experts in that province scratching their heads. It's unclear how many moose have been lost due to the illness that causes the animals to literally waste away, become walking skeletons and then die.

But wildlife officials in New Brunswick don't believe the mystery disease could threaten this province's 26,000 moose. The approximately 120,000 moose in Newfoundland are descendants of a handful of moose that were shipped from New Brunswick in the late 1800s.

Dwayne Sabine, an animal biologist with New Brunswick's Fish and Wildlife division, says until Newfoundland and Labrador officials pinpoint what is killing the moose there it's hard to identify the risk.

"All wildlife species are susceptible to a variety of illnesses, parasites, viruses, bacteria and some of them are transmittable," said Sabine.

The moose that have died first suffer from diarrhea and then eat constantly in a vain attempt to stave off starvation.

Newfoundland officials don't believe the disease can be transmitted to humans.

Chronic wasting disease has similar effects as the unexplained disease currently affecting the moose in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was first discovered in the mid-1980s in the United States and was confirmed in a number of western provinces approximately 25 years later. Deer and elk are the primary targets of the disease.

The Canadian Food and Inspection Agency responded by enacting restrictions on the transportation of live deer, moose and elk.

"With almost all diseases, there's considered to be very little concern about bringing back parts of dead animals, meat that a hunter may bring back," said Sabine. "They're being brought back to be eaten, they're not likely to be brought into contact with another live moose somewhere here."

New Brunswick has yet to record any cases of chronic wasting disease in its deer or moose population.

"We haven't seen a case similar to Newfoundland where you have a case of multiple animal problems in a single area. We get reports of moose acting strangely and our district staff will go out and investigate."

Most often, said Sabine, the cause is brain worm, which is transmitted between moose and deer.

"They could actually be very different than ours," he said of the genetic makeup of the Newfoundland moose. "But the flip side of that is that there are very few wildlife diseases that just affect a very specific and limited segment of a gene pool. So anything that affects moose in Newfoundland will almost certainly affect moose anywhere in North America."