Armed with hundreds of trail cameras, scientists from across North America have come up with the data to form a list of the wildlife most and least comfortable around people.
Most of the findings will come as no surprise to most of those familiar with the continent’s mammals, except for the Anchorage surprise:
Moose don’t like living around humans, the authors concluded.
Tell that to residents of Alaska’s largest city where the moose behave a lot like the pesky whitetail deer of the lower 48, attacking gardens, gobbling ornamental trees and causing automobile accidents.
Why wouldn’t they? Hunting is now banned in most urban and suburban areas. With humans no longer acting like predators, they’ve largely become protectors against predators.
The study found coyotes, cougars (the wildlife kind), wolves and grizzly bears less active in human-dominated environments. That makes human-dominated environments something of a safe space if your role in the natural scheme of things is as prey.
Animals figure out these sorts of things. Scientists studying moose in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks in the central part of the state found some of the animals moving 40 to 60 miles to the city to calve in the spring.
“One untested explanation of (these) unpredicted movements, other than forage-related, might be harassment by bears or other predators,” they wrote.
Motor vehicles are a serious threat to moose and white-tail deer in human-dominated habitats, but even with that risk. the mechanical threats are more predictable, and thus less dangerous, than the wild threats of tooth and fang.
The study found most predators less active in environments frequented by humans. Generally, the authors concluded, all species have some sort of threshold for how much human contact they will tolerate.
“From a management perspective, I think the thresholds that we’ve started to identify are going to be really relevant,” the study’s lead author, Justin Suraci from Conservation Science Partners told the science website Phys.org . “This can help us get a sense of how much available habitat is actually out there for recolonizing or reintroduced species and hopefully allow us to more effectively coexist with wildlife in human-dominated landscapes.”
But there are human thresholds in play as well.
Having grizzly bears, wolves and, in the lower 48, cougars in the neighborhood comes with certain risks as Anchorage residents know all too well.
Bears have killed several residents in recent years, the last a 44-year-old Eagle River man who went for a hike in his neighborhood in 2018 only to run into a family of hungry grizzlies.
Most Anchorage residents don’t consider that part of their neighborhood, but bears have little trouble crossing Turnagain Arm.
As a result of fears about the risks posed by bears, Anchorage residents and authorities killed more than two dozen last year, and it is hard for any wildlife to coexist with humans when dead.
There could be simple reasons for why predator numbers are low in human-dominated areas while less-threatening wildlife like deer – or moose, the deer of Anchorage – flourish.
But where there is enough cover and space, even grizzlies have figured out how to co-exist.