Story last updated at 3:47 p.m. Thursday, May 23, 2002

Mother moose deserve a wide berth
By Marcus K. Garner
Morris News Service-Alaska

photo: news
  Photo by M. Scott Moon
An hours-old moose calf stretches its legs last spring as its sibling and mother rest in a clearing in Kenai. This year's crop of young animals should be appearing soon.  
How does one stop a moose from charging? Taking away it's credit card is not the answer. Calving season has once again come to the Kenai Peninsula, and this often makes for a bevy of irritated, aggressive moose trying to protect their best interests -- their offspring.

This is due to the maternal instincts of mother moose that will be delivering the Peninsula's mother lode of calves sometime between now and mid-July. Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife technician Larry Lewis said 60 percent of the nearly 7,500 moose on the Peninsula will go into labor during this calving season.

"We call it flooding, or the day of thunder, and we anticipate about 4,500 are producing cows," he said. "When you figure about a 20 percent twinning rate (cows giving multiple births), you're looking at 5,400 calves."

With so many moose, they tend to be spread out, which means they could find shelter for their young in any number of places. This includes neighborhoods, said Ted Spraker, Kenai area biologist for Fish and Game.

"We have a lot of moose that live right around in developed areas," Spraker said. "If you see an adult cow, you should automatically think there is a calf nearby."

Spraker said whether in town or in remote areas, people who encounter calves should never assume they are abandoned.

"Cows do leave and go off to feed," he said. "But they are often within about 100 yards of the calf. If you happen to come across a calf in the grass, you know (the cow) is watching the calf and you." He said anyone trying to go near the infant moose -- despite good intentions -- may put themselves in danger of being confronted by a protective mother.

"All it has to do is bleat one time and the cow will come running," Spraker said.

Wildlife experts say an irritated cow -- or any moose, for that matter -- will give signs of its disposition. If the hairs on its back stand on end or its ears lay back, it it upset. A mad cow may or may not charge, but it's best to give her space when these first warnings are apparent. A moose can trample a full-grown human to death.

Spraker said cows become particularly abhorrent of anyone or anything coming near their new calves -- even yearlings.

"This time of year, we always get calls from someone saying, 'she's chasing a younger moose,'" Spraker said. "They just don't tolerate any other animals around. Not even their own yearlings."

Lewis said wolves and brown bear are on the prowl for the young animals, but their primary enemy is the black bear. Between 30 and 35 percent of the crop of newborns will be taken "right away" by black bears, and the newborn moose calves average 30-45 pounds. "It takes them a good couple of weeks to get their feet under them where they can run and get away from these animals," Lewis said. Spraker said this period is perilous for calves with more than 3,000 black bear on the Peninsula. He said between 1,500 and 2,000 calves will die before the end of July. By that time, the young moose who have survived are strong enough to escape attack. "By mid- to late-July there are fish for the bears to eat," Spraker said.

<> Marcus K. Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.