When moose attack

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Newborn twins with mom Monday night in Anchorage/Craig Medred photo

Only four days after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued a warning to residents of Alaska’s largest city to be on the look out for aggressively protective mother moose, an Eagle River woman is reported to be in the intensive-care unit of an Alaska hospital after being moose stomped.

Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh confirmed the stomping, but had no details.

“Anchorage’s Greg Beck said his sister was walking her two dogs when the moose apparently attacked,” the Chugiak-Eagle River Star reported. “He didn’t know much about what happened, but said the attack was bad enough to put her in the intensive care unit with ‘a bunch of broken ribs and lacerations.'”

Eagle River is a popular suburb just north of the state’s largest city, a bustling urban area much like any other in the U.S. with the exception of the unique dangers posed by sizeable populations of moose and bears.

The former have proven more deadly than the latter, though the city has seen several bear maulings.  But moose have killed more people in recent years. A gruesome attack outside a building at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1995 was caught on film. The attack  left 71-year-old Myung Chin Ra dead and attracted widespread publicity.

Video of the deadly episode later popped up on YouTube, showing Ra trying to fend off the moose. Wildlife experts say that the thing to do if attacked by a moose is to curl up into a ball, cover your head as best you can, and play dead.

Mother moose attack not to kill but to try to neutralize what they fear to be a threat to their young. The safest way to stay out of danger is to avoid moose with calves.

“Cow moose can be particularly dangerous during calving season, the Anchorage area Wildlife Biologist Dave Battle warned in the Thursday press release from Fish and Game, “and attacks on people and pets by mothers aggressively defending calves are reported each spring.”

“Give them plenty of space,” Battle said. “Try to avoid single track (trails) and narrow, brushy trails where limited visibility might lead to a run-in with a cow moose and calf.”

The press release focused heavily on “bicyclists and runners (who) should be especially alert as they can swiftly top hills or round corners and run into moose.”  The state agency has recently been in consultation with the Municipality of Anchorage with concerns about the design of new bike and hiking trails in local parks.

The bears, at least, tend to keep the wilder areas of Anchorage. Moose can be found everywhere, and they are a potential threat to inattentive homeowners simply walking out of the house without looking or dog walkers paying less than full attention.

“Making noise to alert wildlife to your presence is always a good precaution, but may not be enough to avoid clashes with moose cows with calves,” Battle noted. “Newborn calves aren’t able to run from pets or people on bicycles. Mothers are likely to stand their ground, even when they hear you coming.”

Most moose calves in the Anchorage area are born in a short period of time a week or two the other side of May 15. Some might now be only days old. As a general rule, the younger the calves the more protective the mother, although some cow moose stay aggressively belligerent for months after calves are born.

The Eaglewood Homeowners Association is advising residents there to be especially alert.

“I respectfully ask that you avoid our trails where moose and bear are being a nuisance. Both were spotted today. Another moose attack with injuries this evening resulting in a trip to the hospital in an ambulance,” a post on the Association’s Facebook page said.

“Kids were throwing rocks at the moose earlier this afternoon and she is lashing out. Please speak to your children about what to do if they encounter wildlife.”

The post appeared above a photo of Anchorage medical personnel loading the injured woman onto a stretcher.





9 replies »

  1. I ride along the coastal trail every day and I can’t believe the dogs running off leash. What is with dog people? Do they not know about moose calves just arriving? Are they unaware of moose agitated by dogs attacking people? I used to say something but the attitude is so bad I stopped. Dog people are a strange bunch.

    • Great comment, James. I don’t know the answer to your first question (and I’m a dog person), but I think the answer to your second two is: probably not. Many urban dwellers (especially those who have always been urban dwellers) seem to lack seasonal awareness and the life and death changes seasonal change brings up here. As you suggest, there are certain places at certain times of year where you should avoid doing certain things if you want to maximize your chances of staying alive. Many city people who don’t have an intimate connection with the natural world don’t think about connecting those dots. They’re just going to walk their dog off leash because the poor pup has been trapped inside their apartment all day while they’ve been working their office job. As you point out, it’s difficult to share helpful information without it being construed as a personal attack. Don’t really know what the answer is. Oh well. There are different ways to learn the same lesson. Some are more painful than others.

  2. It appears that Mr. Battle is making a life threatening situation appear to be insignificant and giving improper advise when you confront a moose and her calves. I agree with Mr. Snow’s comment about questioning lying down and rolling up in a ball. That is last recourse advise for dealing with a brown bear. A black bear will definitely kill you in this type of prone position and a moose will stomp you to death if possible. Most experienced wildlife biologist who deal with moose. Would advise you to slowly back away and leave the area. Sounds like some parents need to have their children realize the liabilities involved with taunting and stoning wildlife.

      • jeff: i don’t think anyone was advising you to drop and cover if you meet an aggressive moose. it is, as you observe for grizzly bears, “last recourse advice.” obviously, the best thing to do with the moose (or any other aggressive animal) is to get away from it. but if you end up on the ground with the animal trying to stomp you, it’s a much better to curl up, protect yourself as best you can, and play dead than to try to fight it off because you really can’t fight it off. i actually know several people who got knocked down by moose, resorted to this tactic and survived without serious injury. and you are right about black bears; it’s never a good idea to play dead. the problem there is whether the human involved can tell the species of bear. i’ve seen people mistake more than a few cinnamon colored black bears for grizzly bears.

  3. Kids were throwing rocks at the moose? Or in the UAA situation, students were throwing snowballs at the moose? Sounds like the wrong people got stomped. I have to question the curl up and play dead advice, though. That sounds like a great way to get your brains spilled. Moose aren’t predators, they won’t chase you far. They just want you out of their (dis)comfort zone. If you curl up you stay in their zone and they will stomp you for as long as they feel like it. No thanks. I’m getting the hell out of there as fast as I can looking for a tree to get behind or a truck to dive under. ymmv.

    • I think the curl up advice mostly applies if you are cornered, as the UAA guy was, or if you are down and the moose is right on top of you. Otherwise, I agree, try to increase the distance between yourself and the moose, keeping in mind that they aren’t good at barrel racing. I.e., run and dodge behind trees or dive deep into the alders. Also, cows are known to favor past birth spots so if you’ve encountered newborns in certain areas in previous years, avoid those areas now.

      • exactly, i once had a cow – sans calf – almost denude a black spruce around which we danced up off the Denali Highway one spring. i can only guess that she’d just lost a calf and was mad about it. i remember reading a note from somebody’s research up that way (Van Ballenberghe, maybe, or Ballard or Stephenson) about an enraged cow chasing a grizzly for miles after it killed her calf. but all cows aren’t aggressive. the one that did her berthing down in my front yard this year and has been hanging out there with her twins for a few days now is very placid.

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