Use Caution Around Moose

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Date: June 5, 2015
Contact: Kathleen Kelly, 907 683-9504

Denali National Park and Preserve staff are urging visitors to be cautious and have respect for moose, and all wildlife, especially around cow moose with calves this time of year.

A cow with two calves has been at Riley Creek Campground in the park for the past few weeks. This cow is very defensive of her calves, charging people when they approach too closely and injuring at least three people, one severely. Cow moose are particularly defensive of their newly born calves at this time of year so it is best to give them lots of space. In Denali, you must stay at least 25 yards away but some moose may be disturbed at an even greater distance.

According to Wildlife Biologist Pat Owen, “Cow moose are good moms but not always the best neighbors if you get too close.” When viewing moose she suggests using a telephoto lens to take pictures and, “no selfies!”

“Be alert and if charged by a moose run away. Duck around trees, cars or buildings. If you are out in the open run in a zigzag since moose don't corner well,” Owen said. Moose have evolved defenses to keep them from becoming easy prey. Unfortunately for humans, moose sometimes perceive us as threats. When a moose feels threatened it has only two choices, either to flee or attack. Normally it will flee, and we can feel glad or apologetic, but when a moose decides to be aggressive, humans can find themselves in dangerous situations.

First and most important to avoiding confrontations is to give moose plenty of room. “Do not approach them,” said Owen. Moose, like other animals, have a distance around them that if entered by another animal--wolf, dog, bear or human--causes them to react. The cow moose at Riley Creek Campground is very unpredictable and wildlife technicians along with the campground hosts have been working very hard to educate and inform campers and visitors.

“The campground hosts are doing a fantastic job, they have been invaluable,” said Jim LeBel, Chief of Commercial Services in the park, “this moose has kept them extremely busy.” Currently, every incoming camper receives an orientation and a flyer is posted at every campsite in Riley Creek Campground about the cow moose and her calves and how to properly behave around moose and other wildlife. Several campsites in the campground were temporarily closed to give the moose more room to roam. Over the last couple of days the sites have been reopened to hard sided campers only.

This area of the campground is perfect habitat for a cow moose with calves because there is abundant food from aspen and willow tree sprouts. Moose calves, because of their size and lack of experience, are particularly susceptible to predation. Thus cow moose have evolved some very strong defensive behaviors. If one perceives a threat to its calf, it may attack. A cow moose can defend itself against a full-grown grizzly.

If you are out walking and see a calf but not a cow, be very careful; you may have gotten between them and will want to remove yourself without drawing their attention. Calves themselves can also be dangerous. Weighing 200 to 400 pounds by their first winter, they are fully equipped to injure a predator--or a human. Most of the injuries in the campground so far have been minor cuts and scrapes from trips and falls. When the individuals got too close to the cow moose and/or her calves she charged and people fell trying to run away.

There was one serious injury on May 27. A woman was charged by the moose and when she tried to run away the moose knocked her down. The cow moose then reared up and hit the woman’s head and shoulder with her front hooves. The woman was taken by ambulance to a Fairbanks hospital where she was treated for lacerations to her head and ear and released.

“We have had many, too many, close calls, as well,” said Owen.

Each year in Alaska more people are injured by moose than by bears.

Last updated: January 13, 2017

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