Moose attacks are on the rise this month as the powerful animals give birth around Southcentral Alaska. Biologists are warning residents to watch out during the calving season when moose become more protective and aggressive.
The words of caution come after a cow moose stomped on a 6-year-old girl Monday in Eagle River, breaking the girl's clavicle and cutting her back, according to the girl's mother. The same day, a moose struck a man outside Rabbit Creek Elementary, but he was uninjured, police said. Over the weekend, a moose charged and injured at least two mountain bikers on trails at Kincaid Park, said Department of Fish and Game biologist Jessy Coltrane.
"Cows are dropping calves all over town right now. If you're walking through a wooded area, you need to be extra vigilant," Coltrane said. "Those cows are so defensive of their little babies. They will literally stand there on the edge of the woods watching you, and if you take one step into their personal bubble, they'll come out hooves flying."
That's exactly what happened to Chloe Metzger outside her Eagle River home Monday. The girl's mother, Julie Metzger, said Chloe and an 11-year-old friend were jumping on a trampoline when they decided they would "go potty" in some bushes nearby.
The girls ran back to the yard with the moose right on their trail, Julie said. The older girl ran and hid in a playhouse with attached swing set, Julie said.
"My daughter didn't make it. I looked out and she was curled in a ball protecting her head," she said. "Everybody was screaming."
The moose stomped on Chloe's back with its two front hooves until Julie's husband, Wade, threw a log at it, she said. It stunned the moose long enough that Chloe was also able to run to the playhouse, and Wade threw a baseball bat at it, Julie said. Unfortunately for the girls, the moose ran into the swing set, became tangled and injured the older girl as well, Julie said. Eventually they were able to scare it away and rushed Chloe to a hospital.
Chloe had surgery Monday night, with another scheduled soon, Julie said.
"She's tough," her mother said Tuesday. "Neither one of us slept last night. It was hard for her. She was thinking about the moose."
Metzger tried to explain that the moose was probably protecting its calf, something Chloe didn't seem to grasp at first.
"She said, 'I didn't want its baby,' " Metzger said.
The moose was calm when Coltrane and another biologist went to see it Monday after the attack, Coltrane said. Still, the animals are large and unpredictable, and it's impossible to know how agitated any particular moose is at a given time, she said.
"This is probably the most dangerous time of year to be around moose," Coltrane said.
Several groups of mountain bikers found that out over the weekend on the trails at Kincaid Park. A couple of them were injured when a moose either attacked or drove the bikers off the trail, Coltrane said.
"It was all fast-moving, blind corners and basically running smack into the moose," she said. "They're not used to these trails being there ... I would definitely recommend to people to get a new hobby for the next couple weeks."
Even when a person is not moving fast, a hidden moose can pose a risk, Coltrane said.
Julie Metzger said her daughter didn't see the moose that attacked her until it was too late. They've seen moose with calves in their yard -- next to a green belt -- several times before and never had problems, she said.
The girl, Chloe, knows to stay away from them and had never been attacked, but she instinctively knew to protect her head and run for shelter, her mother said.
"I think they did all the right things," Julie said. "Looking back, when we saw it making its bed back there, I wish we would've shooed it away. That's my only regret."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.