Not even netting covering the ornamental trees in front of this Poppy Lane home can stop this hungry moose from getting a bite to eat on Friday morning. There's not much forage available for moose this time of year, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reminds everyone it is illegal to feed them.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
As winter nears its end, it's hard not to notice the large population of hungry moose wandering through the streets and neighborhoods in search of a bite to eat.
Seeing the seasonally thin frames of these majestic ungulates can tug at the heart strings of even the most stoic of individuals, and some may feel the need to help them by offering up a few handouts.
A flake of alfalfa here, a few leaves of lettuce there what's the harm in that?
Actually, a lot of harm can come from it, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as a 6-year-old boy in Anchorage recently found out the hard way when he was almost stomped to death by a moose that had been fed table scraps by neighbors.
"People that feed moose are well-intentioned, they're just not well-informed. Feeding moose, and all big game animals, is illegal in Alaska," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Manager Jeff Selinger.
According to Alaska Administrative Code 5 AAC 92.230, no person may intentionally feed a moose, bear, wolf, fox or wolverine or intentionally leave human food or garbage in a manner that attracts these animals.
"Violators can face a $110 fine for doing so," Selinger added.
The purpose of the regulation is two-fold, he said.
"One reason is that it's a public safety issue. In the right situation, moose are a dangerous animal. Here in Alaska, moose cause more injuries than bears," he said.
Selinger explained the way the scenario often plays out.
"People will feel sorry for them, and it's understandable. It's tough to watch them starve," he said.
However, problems can occur from the seemingly harmless decision to feed wild animals.
"Just last week we had to respond to a call of a moose that had a can of corn stuck on its lower jaw," Selinger said. "We suspect someone was attempting to feed it."
Also, fed moose quickly become habituated, and once they expect a treat, they can become aggressive when they don't get it.
"It may seem harmless to feed a hungry moose, but eventually a problem will occur," he said.
Selinger said it's unfortunate because often the problem as with the young boy in Anchorage is a result of someone else. A moose may charge a neighbor getting out of their car after work or a child on the way to school causing trouble for someone who has never even seen the moose before, much less fed it.
Moose with a history of unprovoked attacks may be shot by Fish and Game personnel or other law enforcement officers to protect public safety, which brings up what Selinger said is the second reason for the regulation prohibiting feeding wild animals.
"By feeding a moose, you are likely contributing to its death," he said.
Selinger explained that the death can occur not just from the swift bullet of a officer's firearm, but also can occur more slowly the result of disruption to the delicate balance of microbes in the moose's four-chambered stomach.
"They've been browsing on woody willow bark and stems for months and so that's what the microbes in their gut are programmed to digest," he said.
By suddenly introducing rich food items like alfalfa or moist items like lettuce, corn, fruits and vegetables, rather than slowly weaning onto a rich moist diet like they would do naturally with the approach of green up, the change can wreak havoc on a moose's internal systems.
They may become sick with colic-like symptoms. They may be unable to digest the foods items, so they may just pass them without gaining any nutritional value. Or, worse yet, they may die.
"If they eat something their gut's not programmed to digest, it can clog them up and the animals will literally die with a full belly," Selinger said.
Residents are encouraged to watch moose from a distance and not attempt to feed them.
Also, never approach a moose, no matter how calm they may seem. And keep all children and pets away from them, as well. A cow moose can defend itself against a full-grown grizzly bear, so a yapping terrier doesn't stand much of a chance when confronting a moose used to using its powerful legs to lunge and kick.
"It's best if wild animals are left in the wild," Selinger said.
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