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AK Department of Fish and Game: Pick up the phone, not the moose calf.

by Phillip Manning ~ June 11th, 2014

In early summer, moose calves browsing with their mothers are a fairly common sight in Alaska.  This year, though, there have been a few incidents where well-meaning residents took in what they thought were orphaned calves.  The Department of Fish and Game says not only is that against the law, it’s potentially dangerous.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

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Cuteness is a powerful motivator for a lot of people.  If something is adorable and perceived to be in danger, odds are someone is going to feel a strong urge to render aid.  When it comes to moose calves, however, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says that is not the right response.

“It’s much like getting in between a bear and its cubs.”

That’s Todd Rinaldi, who oversees wildlife management for Fish and Game in the Valley.   Rinaldi recently responded to two incidents where people saw what they thought was an abandoned moose calf on or near their property.  Those individuals then brought the baby moose home with them. In Wasilla, one person even let a moose calf into their living room. The question then becomes what to do with what will eventually become a very large animal.  In one case in Willow, Todd Rinaldi says that a homeowner did some research and attempted to feed the calf formula.

“They put it on a dog run, had it in their yard, and had been feeding it formula.  Even though the animal had been taking formula from them for a couple of days, when I responded and found the calf, it was severely dehydrated and also had a very low blood sugar level.  So, it wasn’t really in the best shape by the time we got it.”

Rinaldi says that raising a moose calf is difficult, even under circumstances where veterinary care is involved.  He also says would-be moose rescuers typically mean no harm, but that, in addition to risking mama moose’s wrath, they might actually prevent calf and cow from reuniting, especially if the baby is moved or handled.

“They rely on vocal communication and scent to track each other.  One of the considerations that we take into account is whether or not that animal has been moved and whether or not it has gained human scent.  The process of handling that calf by human scent might interfere with the calf and the cow reuniting.”

Todd Rinaldi says something to consider is that, just because a moose calf is alone doesn’t necessarily mean it’s orphaned or abandoned.  He says it’s not uncommon for cows to leave their babies behind when they go off to feed.  Rinaldi says this can go on for hours at a time.  As a result,  Fish and Game staff sometimes wait up to two days to see if the cow returns before deciding if the calf is truly alone.

“When people observe lone calves, they might be seeing the calf, let’s say, for an hour here, then they don’t see the calf and they don’t see the cow, then a couple hours later they see the calf and still don’t see the cow.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the cow hasn’t around or is around.  That just might mean that you have been unaware of actually seeing the interaction between the cow and the calf, so that’s one of the important reasons that we want to begin to monitor this process.”

When a calf is determined to be abandoned, Fish and Game has a number of options.  Sometimes, they take it to a facility that raises captive moose.  Other times, nature is left to take its course, and, occasionally, the animal is destroyed to prevent predators from finding an easy meal near human habitation.

If someone in the Valley sees a lone moose calf, Todd Rinaldi says should call the Department of Fish and Game in Palmer or call the local Alaska Wildlife Trooper.  He adds that handling wildlife, including orphaned calves, is against state law, and could mean a citation.  He says he does not know if the Valley residents mentioned in a Fish and Game press release have been cited, since that decision is up to the State Troopers.

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