The story now sweeping the country about a moose born in the parking lot of an Anchorage Lowe’s store is a fraud, according to an employee of the Lowe’s store, and a sad testimony to the sorry state of journalism in the U.S. today.
“It definitely didn’t give birth there,” Rachael Mae Hess in the gardening department said Thursday.
Hess first popped up as a witness to what happened when she posted a Facebook comment to the KTVA.com website at 10:07 p.m. Tuesday. In response to another comment, she wrote this:
“Baby still had its umbilical cord attached you’re thinking of 2 different calfs. I work there and watched it unfold. However there is a 2 week old calf and its mother in the same area. Tis the season.”
When contacted today at work, she was adamant that the moose attracting so much attention was not born in the Lowe’s parking lot or any other parking lot, but was born somewhere behind the store in the woods on Joint Base ElmendorF-Richardson.
Ken Marsh, the spokesman for the Wildlife Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, admitted he’d been skeptical of the story from the beginning. He said he’d been contacted by reporters from all over the country, and at least two of them did ask whether he believed the moose was born in the parking lot.
“I said, ‘I doubted it,'” Marsh said.
A state wildlife biologist who examined photographs of the moose Tuesday concluded that while part of the calf’s umbilical cord was still attached, the calf was dry and appeared to be hours old.
Calves, according to “Ecology and Management of the North American Moose,” the definitive work on the species, take 15 to 20 minutes to be born and emerge coated in amniotic membrane. The cow then licks the calf clean. Shortly thereafter, she starts trying to get the calf on its feet.
“Getting up and walking may take a calf several hours,” the book says.
The calf in the video shot at the Anchorage Lowe’s was not only dry, it was also moving around quite nicely. It had obviously been on its feet for some time.
“It’s brand new,” Hess said, “but it came from behind the store on the military base.”
She was told, she said, that the mother and baby had been chased off the base by a bear, a frequent predator on moose calves in the Anchorage area. But she cautioned that was secondhand information, and she wouldn’t want to state it is as fact.
She was only sure of one fact.
“The baby (in the parking lot) was still pretty wobbly, but it was not born in this spot.”
Hess admitted to being a little surprised that so many in the media ran with a story about a moose born in a parking lot without checking to see if it was actually born in the parking lot. No reporters, she added, had previously called her to ask what she knew.
Marsh said that what first caught his attention was that with everyone claiming the moose was born in the parking lot, no one had a photo or video of it actually being born, and “social media was going just nuts on that (story).”
Social media wasn’t alone.
The story got its start with a May 30 KTUU.com video headlined “Moose gives birth in Lowe’s parking Lot.” The claim the birth happened in the parking lot was attributed to no one.
By evening, the story had been picked up by KTVA TV which reported, “a moose gave birth in the parking lot of the East Anchorage Lowe’s Tuesday, drawing a crowd to watch as her baby took its first steps.” The claim the birth happened in the parking lot was attributed to no one.
The Alaska Dispatch News, the state’s largest website, also jumped onto the story, headlining “Moose gives birth in the parking lot of an Anchorage hardware store.” The claim the birth happened in the parking lot was attributed to no one.
Nowhere in any of the Alaska stories was there the name of anyone who actually claimed to have seen the moose calf born in the parking lot. That didn’t slow the national media.
Following on the heels of the Alaska reports, the flood gates opened and media across the country began picking up a story as cute as a newborn moose. CNN.com really went all in.
“Witnessing a live birth is a spectacle in and of itself, but imagine seeing a live moose birth — not at a zoo — but at your local shopping center,” wrote. “That’s what a handful of Alaskans experienced at a Lowe’s hardware store parking lot in Anchorage Tuesday morning.”
He named not a single one of those Alaskans. Nor did he attribute to anyone the claim that “shocked and amazed patrons looking to buy hardware instead got to view a live moose birth.”
But why would anyone bother to go look for an actual witness? Who would want to risk wrecking such a cute story?
Correction: This story was corrected on June 6, 2016. An Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist did not visit the scene, as originally reported, but looked at a variety of photographs of the cow moose and an hours old calf. A Fish and Game spokesman thought the biologist had visited the scene but learned otherwise in a June 6 conversation. The conversation came after a call from newspaper reporter trying to confirm a story the newspaper had reported a week earlier claiming the moose calf was born in the Lowe’s parking lot. There remains no evidence to indicate that was the case.