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Furry friends

A typical Anchorage peeping tom/Craig Medred photo

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.

Whitetails, the researchers reported in the study published in Global Change Biology, appear to like hanging out around people.

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.

Tradeoffs

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.

Another man died only about 25 miles southeast of Anchorage in a grizzly attack last year, but it happened across Turnagain Arm on the north end of the Kenai Peninsula.

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.

A pair of Hillside neighbors out for a morning stroll earlier this month

 

 

 

 

 

4 replies »

  1. I have lived here 47 years with the wiley moose. I have come upon accidents that had just occurred. I always warn my guests to constantly use peripheral vision as I have seen them bolt across the road. I have had some close calls but had never actually seen a moose strike.That changed this morning. I was merging on the freeway from my arterial (Rabbit Creek Road) A car went past as I was accelerating onto the freeway. All of a sudden there was what first appeared as a “dirt devil” (mini tornado). Then my mind says dirt/ dust devils aren’t black! The object spinning through the air and all the debris was hair, and lots of it plus 1200 lbs of flesh. The poor animal landed in the outside lane and layed there albeit with its head up. I stopped behind the vehicle and sat there until the guy gained his composure and got out of the vehicle. He was fine and had a cellphone. He asked what he should do. I told him to call 911 and express some urgency to get the animal removed from the freeway. Luckily he hit just the left front fender, spinning the animal , instead of coming through the windshield as is often the case. He never saw the animal and didn’t hit his brakes at 65/70 mph.
    A very dramatic event.

  2. Even out here in the way more remote interior I can tell when the wolves are coming in close, because I have two different moose, one with a big soggy calf, and a lone cow, that come in regularly each winter, eat willow and then sleep outside well into the next day under my bedroom window, where my night light is on, and right next to my pups fence line. I think they like the idea of having a rest from the survival game every once in awhile, because they know my pups will sound off if anything else comes in, and we let them be.

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