Abandoned baby moose? Think twice before touching, biologists warn

Devin Kelly

One moose calf was welcomed inside like a pet, and then it peed on the white carpet of a Wasilla living room. Another wound up in a backyard dog run in Willow with a collar around its neck. In an Anchorage mobile home park, a wildlife biologist said, someone apparently tackled a calf and tied an electrical cord around its neck like a leash. Then it escaped, dragging the cord with it as it ran.

A spate of incidents have surfaced in recent weeks involving people handling moose calves, frustrating wildlife biologists who constantly remind the public not to touch wild animals.

"Moose calves are being captured and kidnapped by well-meaning, but misguided, Alaskans," the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a pointed Tuesday press release.

Last week, a moose calf appeared along a road near a heavily wooded subdivision in the Wasilla area. In a matter of hours, someone picked it up and brought it into their house, said Todd Rinaldi, the area wildlife biologist in Palmer.

"They just had it in the living room, as if it was a puppy," Rinaldi said. "A conversation piece."

Early June is the tail end of moose calving season and wooded areas around the state are alive with leggy new calves, roughly the weight of medium-sized dogs when they're born. With a mild winter and early spring, biologists expected fewer orphaned moose calves this year, Rinaldi said. But he's fielded a large number of calls about animals that seem to have become separated from their mothers.

The big issue, he said, is a general lack of awareness about how to handle, or not handle, a young animal that appears to be abandoned.

Mother moose, along with other kinds of wildlife, can become separated from their young for a variety of reasons, whether by roads or fences, or walking away to feed. Those separations can last for hours or even days at a time, and people shouldn't assume the young animal has been orphaned, wildlife officials said. In almost all cases, mothers return to their young eventually.

Even if it seems like the animal has been abandoned, don't touch it. Instead, call the nearest Alaska Department of Fish and Game office.

If it's outside business hours, call the Alaska State Troopers.

"The problem is, it tugs at people's heartstrings, but I think people jump on the gun on it," Rinaldi said.

Wildlife officials stress that taking an animal into captivity is illegal and dangerous. Touching, feeding or picking up wildlife can lead to a fine. The animal can also be terminally injured, or end up in permanent captivity in a zoo, Rinaldi said. Three moose calves recently recovered in the Valley are all being taken to zoos or wildlife conservation centers.

In another recent case, Rinaldi walked into a house in Willow after hearing about someone raising a calf there. Instead of calling the state, the man had collared the animal on his dog run, and was attempting to raise it, Rinaldi said. The calf was chained there three days before Rinaldi found out about it.

Then, Sunday morning, Rinaldi flew to a remote backcountry lodge near Wolverine Creek in the Mat-Su Valley, where he said the lodge owners had begun to feed a calf that found its way onto the property after its mother apparently disappeared.

On Friday, a particularly bizarre incident involving a young calf unfolded in an East Anchorage mobile home park, when someone called authorities about 1 p.m. to report that a cow moose with two calves was running through the trailer court, said Anchorage area wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane. There was a lot of commotion, and at one point, one of the calves separated from the cow.

"Evidently, some man took it upon himself to tackle it and tie it up with an electrical cord," Coltrane said. The calf escaped and ran off with 20 feet of electrical cord hanging from its neck and dragging behind it, she said.

Coltrane and assistant area wildlife biologist Dave Battle drove around, but there was no sign of the calf. Then, around 9:45 p.m. Friday, Anchorage police called Coltrane and told her that the calf had again been running through the trailer court, minus the extension cord, and kids and dogs were chasing it.

Some well-meaning people and police officers then corralled it into a four-plex adjacent to the trailer court, Coltrane said. She and Battle drove back out again and retrieved the calf from the backyard.

Then they located the mother moose, which had walked out of the park area into the trailer court.

"It's people with big hearts that are well-meaning, but sometimes being well-meaning and knowing what's best for the animal are two different things," Coltrane said.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.