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Moose Calves That Appear to be Abandoned Usually Aren't

Wildlife best left alone

Joseph Robertia / Peninsula Clarion / June 3, 2005

Twin moose calves trip over each other while playing in a clearing in Kenai recently. Wildlife officials caution against handling young animals that appear to be orphaned.
Photo by M. Scott Moon

Every year, especially during spring and early summer, many moose calves are born - singly, in pairs or occasionally in triplets - across Alaska.

Small, reddish in color and barely able to stand initially, these calves may rest for hours a day, curled up in a soft bed of natural vegetation.

Meanwhile their mother makes her usual rounds, eating large quantities of leaves to produce enough milk to feed her offspring and sustain her own body weight.

This is natural, but what isn't is when human beings interfere with the process, unnecessarily "saving" what they believe to be abandoned calves.

"They're basically well-meaning people who just aren't well-informed," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game area manager Jeff Selinger in regard to would-be animal rescuers.

Selinger said as of late, Fish and Game has been fielding numerous calls from people who have picked up a moose calf or were interested in finding out if they should. His advice is almost always to leave the calf alone and let nature run its course.

"Once picked up, a moose calf's fate is sealed," Selinger said. "It won't be bottle fed and then released in the fall. That moose is an animal that will never be returned to the wild."

Selinger said this is partly an animal safety issue, citing there are diseases known to occur in captive populations of moose that make reintroducing them risky to their wild counterparts and therefore not feasible.

Selinger said this reality is in contrast to what many think when they pick up a wild baby, but state regulations are clear on the matter.

"Only licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities may raise abandoned moose calves and these animals do not go back to the wild," he said.

There are only a handful of these facilities in the state, two of which include the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage and Big Game Alaska in Girdwood. However, Selinger said currently neither of the institutions could take in more calves.

"And, as frustrating as it is, calves taken in after these institutions are full may have to be put down," he said.

The general public is not allowed to raise calves for numerous reasons, but there are also human safety issues.

"Once a moose gets used to getting food from a human, they loose their fear of them," Selinger said.

He said this may not be a big deal when the animal is a calf, but a full grown moose weighing more than a 1,000 pounds that's hungry and is being pushy - that's a big deal.

Selinger said the best solution is to leave moose calves and other wildlife alone.

"It's the best chance a moose has to make it into the wild population," he said.

He also reminds people that just because the mother moose is not seen, it doesn't mean she has abandoned the calf.

She may go off for hours at a time to feed, or she may be close by, but scared to return due to the presence of humans.

Even if the calf is bleating, don't approach or handle the animal. Odors may discourage the mother from accepting the calf when she returns, or in the case the mother is not scared by humans, she may attack thinking her infant is being threatened.

"This isn't to say that calves cannot be abandoned," Selinger said.

He explained that moose can become separated as a result of loose dogs harassing them or the mother being hit by a car. Other times a calf may get hurt or be born congenitally sick or weak, and the mother may sense this and abandon it.

Selinger said anyone that observes a calf in these conditions should call Fish and Game at 262-9368 to report it, all the while remembering that death is part of the cycle of life.

"Some calves may die, but that's part of the natural cycle, and it gives food to coyotes, eagles and other wildlife," he said.
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