Don’t panic Anchorage. The moose in the city’s most popular urban park have not declared war on their human neighbors. The Big Wild Life has not spun out of control.
What at first might appear to be a string of moose attacks over the Memorial Day holiday — “Two bicyclists injured by moose on Anchorage Coastal Trail” as reported by the Alaska Dispatch News on Friday and “Hikers survive moose attack in Kincaid Park” as reported by KTUU.com on Monday — are really the same incident involving the same two women.
And there was only one moose.
It thoroughly stomped Melanie Sandstrom and Catherine Dwinnell on Friday, but now appears to have gone back to innocently browsing along with the city’s hundreds of other moose.
What exactly sparked attack that left the two women broken and bruised will never be known, but there are suspicions they or their dog wandered too close to a cow with a newborn calf near a Kincaid pond not far off the Coastal Trail.
Moose will sometimes aggressively defend their calves, especially in the first few weeks of life.
“In late spring and summer, cow moose with young calves are very protective and will attack humans who come too close,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game warns. “If you see a calf and not a cow, be very careful, because you may have walked between them which is a very dangerous place to be.”
Sandstrom said Tuesday that she is sure the moose that attacked her and Dwinnell was a female, but the attack came so swiftly neither woman got a chance to look to see if there was a calf nearby.
On a warm, sunny Friday, the women had wandered off the paved Coastal Trail on one of several narrow footpaths that lead into the woods and brush. Dwinnell’s blue healer, a dog which remains missing as of this report, was with the women, but somewhere nearby out of sight in the brush.
As the women neared a pond just behind the Kincaid beach, Sandstrom said, a Fed Ex cargo jet began its approach to nearby Ted Stevens International Airport.
“We were both putting our hands up to cover our ears because of the noise,” she said, “and out of the corner of my eye I saw this moose pawing the ground. I said, ‘that moose is agitated.’
“And the next thing she just hit me full force.”
All of it happened that quick, Sandstrom added. There wasn’t even time for a second thought before she was on the ground getting kicked and still trying to sort out exactly what was going on.
“It takes a minute to register,” she said. “It’s just surreal.”
With Sandstrom quickly down and seemingly out of commission, the moose moved on to Dwinnell in a blink. Sandstrom remembers the dog showing up with the moose stomping Dwinnell, and Dwinnel being worried about that.
“She told her dog to go away,” Sandstrom said. “This is like her child.”
The dog left. The moose danced on Dwinnell for seconds that seemed like minutes. And then it backed off.
“I could hear her snorting behind us,” said Sandstrom, who decided then to sit up because she felt so vulnerable flat on the ground. That was a mistake.
“She came back and attacked me again,” the woman said. This time when the moose left Sandstrom decided it was best not to get up.
Instead, she said, “I rolled over into the pond and got under the bank. I just hid there. Catherine was hidden in the bushes.”
Seconds ticked by, maybe minutes, Sandstrom said. Finally the women started talking back and forth, wondering where the moose had gone and discussing whether it was safe to come out of hiding. Eventually they did.
Dwinnell was bleeding heavily from a leg wound. Sandstrom took off her sports bra and used it as a bandage. Then the two women began making their way back to the Coastal Trail. Dwinnell knew the trails in the area better than Sandstrom.
But “her glasses had been broken, so she couldn’t see well,” Sandstrom said.
Getting back to the Coastal Trail, a heavily traveled route in summer, required team work. Luckily, the first person they met when they got there was a nurse. Not long after, a doctor from Connecticut came by, Sandstrom said.
“People were wonderful,” she added. “Everyone was stopping to help. They gave us warm clothes.”
Someone called authorities and paramedics with the Anchorage Fire Department soon came to get the women with an all-terrain vehicle. Their injuries turned out to be painful, but not life threatening. Both women suffered cracked ribs and Dwinnell broke her wrist as well. Both were badly bruised.
Sandstrom was left tattooed with black and blue hoof prints.
“All the hoof prints are on my back,” she said. “I’m very sore, but very thankful. If it had to have happened, I’m thankful. I got off pretty lucky.”
After hundreds of encounters with Anchorage moose over the years and nary a problem, Sandstrom is still trying to sort out what went wrong this time.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with the dog,” she said. “I never saw the dog. I think we started it. (But) I don’t know. It happened so fast.”