Biologists Warn Against Giving Food to Hungry Moose

The Associated Press / Juneau Empire / March 23, 2004

KENAI - Emaciated moose, some of them starving, have been seen wandering the Kenai Peninsula in search of food along roadways. A few have dropped dead in residential areas.

But no matter how hard it is for humans to see hungry moose and calves, they should resist the temptation to feed the animals, said Jeff Selinger, a state Department of Fish and Game biologist here.

"You'll just kill them quicker that way," he said.

Moose are similar to bears in that they spend the summer and early fall eating as much as possible to fatten up for the winter. Once the trees drop their leaves and the snow flies moose, unlike hibernating bears, spend the winter roaming the woods in search of food.

"They're eating bark and twigs. It's a lot of bulk, but poor in nutritional energy, so they'll always lose weight through the winter," Selinger told the Peninsula Clarion. "There just isn't enough nutritious food for them to eat to keep up their energy reserves."

Moose use up their fat reserves during the winter. Sometimes, their muscle mass goes. That's when a moose will starve if green-up isn't right around the corner.

The first animals to succumb are those with the fewest energy reserves, and Selinger said those are the calves. Calves' bodies use most of their food intake to grow. They enter fall much leaner than adults, making them especially vulnerable to starvation.

"It's shaping up to be an average year for moose mortalities," Selinger said.

Microbes in a moose's gut change slowly during the year, adapting to its diet.

In winter, the microbes break down a coarse, fibrous, woody diet. Any abrupt change, such as to alfalfa, fruit or vegetables that humans might put out for the moose, will hurt the animals by sending their digestive system into chaos.

"They'll still die. It will just be with a full stomach," Selinger said.


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