A photo of an ailing Anchorage moose that continues to circulate on the Internet is older than you might think, according to the woman who took it -- but it still poses a head-scratcher for Alaska wildlife authorities.
According to a thread started about a month ago on the link-sharing website Reddit, the moose depicted in the photo is seen "after surviving and fully recovering from a bear attack."
In the thread, commenters posted a variety of theories for the cause of the animal's injuries, ranging from disease to being struck by a vehicle. One suggested that the animal might have been struck by a bolt of lightning, like an Iowa bison that survived an alleged lightning strike as recounted on the website Gizmodo. Many thought the scars looked more like a burn than a mauling injury.
"What the hell did the bear do? Light the moose on fire?" wrote one user.
Patricia Grenier, the woman who took the photo that originally surfaced about a year ago, said Thursday that she saw the moose in the summer of 2014 near her home in Glen Alps, above the parking area for Flattop Mountain. She heard from nearby residents, who have since moved, that the animal had been mauled by a grizzly.
"That moose had been attacked by a bear by a neighbor's house," Grenier said. "(The moose) was gone and everybody thought it had died, but then it was back and it was in my neighbor's yard."
Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, didn't take long to recall the animal when he was shown Grenier's photos last week. Fish and Game officials had received reports and seen other photos of the animal when it was hanging around the Anchorage Hillside.
"I recognize that moose," Marsh said. "I matched up the abrasions -- it's clearly the same animal."
Marsh said the state veterinarian, Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, was concerned at the time that the moose might be suffering from winter ticks, parasites that have flourished in New Hampshire and harmed moose populations there -- but haven't been reported in Alaska to date. Beckmen asked Fish and Game biologists to kill the moose and bring its carcass in for a necropsy, but that proved easier said than done.
"Unfortunately -- well, fortunately for the moose -- we weren't able to catch up with it," Marsh said. "There's a lot of forest out there."
Marsh said in an email that Beckmen considered a long list of causes for the moose's condition, from several kinds of parasitic infestations, cancer or birth defects to trauma or self-inflicted injuries in response to ticks.
"Without a biopsy and some diagnostics, it is impossible to say what originally caused the skin lesions so speculation is just that: speculations," Beckmen said, according to an email from Marsh.
According to Grenier, she stopped seeing the moose shortly after she took the photo.
"September or October of 2014 was probably the last time we saw it," Grenier said.
Whether the moose survives today, and if it fully recovered from its injuries, remains a separate mystery.