Federal wildlife officials are trying to determine who is responsible for the illegal killing of a wild moose in northwestern Minnesota.
"With the Minnesota moose population on the decline, the thoughtless act of killing one and leaving it to waste only adds to the loss of these magnificent animals," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a news release.
Federal officials say they would understand if the shooting was an accident – if the hunter thought they were shooting at a deer – but officials add those incidents need to be reported, the Star Tribune reports.
The person responsible for the crime could be issued a citation or could have to pay a fine ranging from $200 to $3,000, depending on the circumstances, the newspaper says.
The federal agency is investigating the moose's death instead of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources because the moose was killed at a federal waterfowl production area, Forum News Service reports.
Information about the moose – such as its size, gender and weight – hasn't been released because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't want to jeopardize the investigation, Forum notes.
If anyone has any information to help wildlife officials solve the crime they are asked to call 218-844-3423.
Moose waning in Minnesota
A 2014 survey of Minnesota's moose population says there are an estimated 4,350 moose living in the state, down from 8,840 in 2006. However, populations have started to rebound from last year – surveys estimate there were only 2,760 moose in the state.
The Department of Natural Resources says the reasons for the sharp decline in moose are unclear, ruling out hunting and predation by wolves as major factors. The DNR says research into the phenomenon is underway, but early signs seem to indicate health- and stress-related factors.