Employees at a movie theater in Kenai got a big surprise this week when a curious moose strolled into the lobby and rooted through the trash, then left after a few minutes with a McDonald’s Happy Meal box stuck to its snout.
The visit, which happened Wednesday evening around 7 p.m., was captured on social media in a TikTok video and Facebook post that showed what appeared to be a yearling entering Kenai Cinemas while an employee looked on.
It was at least the second time in the past month that a moose wandered into a building in Southcentral Alaska. Earlier this month, a young moose wandered into the lobby of an Anchorage medical building through an automatic door.
In the Kenai theater, the moose poked it head around the corner, and sniffed the air, its tongue sticking out.
“No. No. No,” the employee said in the TikTok video. She called the manager.
“Ricky! Ricky!” she said, her voice rising.
The theater manager, Ricky Black, was upstairs working on employees’ schedules. He said his first reaction was to laugh.
“She was behind the counter. She wasn’t in immediate danger from the moose,” Black said. “And she’s like, ‘Stop laughing. This is serious.’”
Meanwhile, the moose had calmly begun eating out of the trash. Black banged on the wall and yelled. The moose ignored him.
“Shoo! Shoo!” Black yelled in the video. “He ain’t leavin’,” one of the other employees responded.
After a few minutes, the moose found the Happy Meal box, Black said.
All the yelling eventually helped direct the moose out. But as employees watched it wander away, it was clear the Happy Meal was still stuck on its snout, nose poking through the cardboard, Black said.
These kinds of close encounters with wildlife can be worrisome, said Nick Fowler, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Like other wildlife, moose can become habituated to humans and human food, which can make them more dangerous, he said. Human food also isn’t always good for moose, which typically eat plants, twigs and leaves.
“I do not know if a Happy Meal is good for a moose or not. However, I can confidently say that it’s not in its natural diet,” Fowler said.
In situations like this, “the best thing we can almost always do is make sure there’s plenty of distance, and we’re not approaching the animal,” Fowler said.
While the moose at the theater and at Providence both didn’t seem aggressive, Fowler said it’s not always easy to recognize the sign of an aggressive moose. And the fact that a moose is young doesn’t guarantee it won’t be aggressive, he said.
“You can get injured by by any wildlife. And it’s important not to assume that a younger animal that maybe is displaying what someone decides is not aggressive behavior isn’t going to be involved in a negative human wildlife interaction,” he said.
Fowler said this time of year is typically when moose are most “nutritionally limited.”
The front door at the theater had been propped open to let in some fresh air while the employee cleaned out the popcorn machine, which emits a lot of heat — and popcorn smell, Black said. He thinks that smell is what drew the moose in.
“It definitely could smell that popcorn,” he said. “It’s just a very common reaction for anybody or anything that comes into the theaters.”