When Sheila Bierdeman rode down Kotsina Street in Nikiski on Wednesday night, she didn't expect to see someone wearing elf shoes in late July. Let alone a moose.
"It walked like a person wearing slippers," Bierdeman said.
Bierdemen saw a young mother moose with abnormally long hooves cross the street. The hooves split in the middle, which gave them the appearance of flippers or elf shoes.
The moose and her young calf headed into a grassy area for a snack. Bierdeman had brought a camera along to photograph her previous home, because her daughter was visiting from North Carolina. The two, along with the daughter's grandson, enticed the big-hooved creature to walk across a gravel driveway for a better shot.
"My 2-year-old son was kissing at it," said Jessica Bierdeman-Jones. "He liked looking at it."
Bierdeman-Jones snapped a shot when the mother followed her calf away from the property. The young bull didn't have elongated hooves.
According to Kimberlee Beckmen, a wildlife veterinarian with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the animal is likely suffering from a copper deficiency, overabundance of other minerals or inflammatory disease.
Copper helps form bonds between moose's hoof cells. A lack of the mineral causes the cells to "balloon" and grow at a quicker rate, Beckmen said.
Too much zinc or iron hinders the ungulate's ability to absorb copper. Without proper amounts of the mineral, the veterinarian said that a moose's reproductive system can suffer, leading to a lower birthrate. The animal's autoimmune system is harmed by low amounts as well. This increases the chances of a moose contracting a parasitic infection.
"Copper is critical to life," Beckmen said.
She said that moose that eat too much cattle feed can contract an inflammatory disease called "laminitis" that leads to large hooves. Moose aren't supposed to eat hay because it's a warm food.
A traumatic blow to the big brown creature's hooves can injure the grow plate and cause elongation, too, she said, but only in the injured hoof.
Oversized plodders slow the moose, she said. The odd shape of the feet also decreases the moose's mobility. The large hooves don't cause the moose any pain, but increase the chance of predators catching the ungulate.
"If it's lucky the hoof will break off," she said.
The majority of reports of "sleigh hooved" moose come from the Kenai Peninsula, but Beckmen said that there are no reliable statistics on the number of moose with elongated hooves.
"Most people report one when they see one for the first time," she said. "Once we tell them it's nothing unusual they don't report them again."
Tony Cella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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