Wildlife rehab center frees orphan moose

PORTAGE -- Four moose calves that arrived at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage as days-old calves weighing less than 45 pounds are leaving the Portage center 10 times larger.

Two left Alaska on Wednesday and arrived at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in British Columbia on Thursday. Two others will be released back into the wild in Game Management Unit 14, which stretches from Wasilla north to Talkeetna and east to Chickaloon.

The moose now in Canada came to the center as orphans -- one from the Kenai Moose Refuge and the other after its mother was killed by a vehicle in Anchorage.

"We're lucky down here that we have an infinite supply of browse," said Mike Miller, founder and executive director of the center. "They eat tremendous amounts of willow, and some alder and cottonwood, too. Between their formula and brush, they eat 30-40 pounds a day when they're young."

Before being released in the Alaska wilds, the radio-collared moose undergo extensive testing to ensure they're disease free.

"That's our biggest concern," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Rick Sinnott. "It's just like an elementary school this time of year."

Fish and Game will try to select a location with good habitat and few predators -- usually waiting until bears hibernate before releasing them to reduce that threat.

"If they all get gobbled up five minutes after we release them," Miller said, "it's not worth our while."

He said that even though the moose have lived in captivity most of their lives, they're not tame.

"Ones that we're going to release into wild, when you walk into their enclosure, they walk away," Miller said. "They have the same chances out there in the wild as other moose calves -- well, maybe a little less."

Anchorage Daily News/adn.com