Biologists ponder two-headed moose fetus

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A two-headed fetus was discovered this month in a cow moose harvested near Clear Air Force Station.

The foot-long fetus had two heads and four legs emerging from the same small body, said Jim Simon, who oversees a traditional foods assessment program for the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks. It has been frozen pending a detailed biological study that will include X-rays, a dissection and tissue testing.

''We're going to try to explain it and do good science and get back to the community,'' Simon said. ''As far as we know, the scientific literature has no reports of two-headed moose, so now we're trying to beat the bushes for tribal communities to see whether it's been reported in the North.''

A Nenana man shot the cow moose Feb. 3 for the funeral potlatch of elder Hester Evan and discovered the fetus while field dressing the carcass, said Jack Irwin, first chief of the Nenana Native Council.

Irwin decided it should be tested for contaminants or other problems.

''Of course, a genetic defect is a probability, but being that it was within a five-mile radius of Clear, it just became a matter of maybe we should look into it,'' he said.

At Clear, a top-secret radar listening post off the Parks Highway about 20 miles south of Nenana, no reports have been received of unusual wildlife deaths or deformities, according to Staff Sgt. Keith Smith, the station's spokesman.

''It's just an impossibility for it to be connected'' to the base, Smith said. ''There are (radio frequency) hazards, but you've got to be right there at the radar face.''

The cow appeared to be a healthy source of food, with fat reserves on its rump and stomach, Irwin said. It produced 400 to 500 pounds of meat shared by more than 100 people a few days later in Nenana.

Photos of the fetus, taken by Irwin and sent to TCC with a request for help, have since passed among dozens of Alaskans as e-mail attachments.

''I never intended for that to happen,'' Irwin said.

''To see the response -- people are frightened of it,'' Simon said. ''It's definitely weird looking.''

A TCC staff biologist suggested that the creature may actually be twins conjoined early in development, Simon said. Once his staff finishes studying the animal, TCC will publish a report for Nenana and other Native communities.

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