The annual, post-rut congregation of bull moose has arrived in Powerline Pass above Alaska’s largest city, and with it a golden opportunity to harass the wildlife.
Some simply call this “wildlife photography.”
Weakened from the fasting linked to a desire to breed so powerful it trumps survival, often left injured in the wake of violent battles for breeding opportunities, the massive ungulates who herd up for a time a couple thousand feet above Anchorage are now perfect targets for wildlife photographers both amateur and professional.
Too weak to flee, the moose will often let people approach to within feet.
For the photographers, it is the next best thing to taking photos at the zoo. For the suffering animals, not so much.
“Human disturbance is widely recognized for its deleterious effects on the physiology, behavior and demographics of individuals and populations of wild animals,” Colorado researchers observed in a peer-reviewed study published in Nature Conservation in May.
“In a human-dominated landscape, effects of human disturbance on elk behavior exceed those of habitat and natural predators,” Canadian researchers observed in a peer-reviewed study published in PLOS One in 2012. “Humans trigger increased vigilance and decreased foraging in elk.
“However, it is not just the number of people but also the type of human activity that influences elk behavior (e.g. hiking vs. hunting). Quantifying the actual fitness costs of human disturbance remains a challenge in field studies but should be a primary focus for future researches.”
Alaska wildlife managers recognized this long before the studies appeared and encouraged the state to adopt a law prohibiting wildlife harassment, but it is seldom enforced.
“Give wildlife plenty of space,” dictates the first line in the ethics policy. “Binoculars and spotting scopes allow you to view wildlife without getting too close.”
This advice is largely unheeded in Chugach State Park’s Powerline Pass, where the general rul seems to be more this:
“If a moose doesn’t fill the frame when shooting with a wide-angle lens, you’re too far away.”
Anchorage photographer Page Hall has been appalled by what she has seen in the Pass this year.
“These bulls are exhausted with injured eyes swollen shut and bone-deep gore wounds, and humans so close I actually thought the moose were dead at first,” she messaged. “One guy was playing ‘touch the moose in a selfie,’ and everyone acted like I’m the only one doing something wrong when I said they’re all too close.”
Hall said she did call Fish and Game, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Alaska State Parks to complain the “photography” has gotten out of hand, but said no one expressed any real interest in enforcing the state’s wildlife harassment law, let alone talking to the photographers about ethics.
As for the photographers themselves, Page said it appears that either they don’t notice or don’t care about the state of the moose.