In the Field

Dangerous Animals – Aggressive Moose – Moose Safety

Dangerous Animals – Aggressive Moose – Moose Safety

In this blog article, we’re heading back into Alaska moose country. I did a blog and video recently where I gave a general overview of the life cycle, diet, and behavior of the mighty moose, but this time we’ll be taking a look at another characteristic of these animals which is not so well-known. Much of the general public tend to think of moose as big, dumb, slow, overgrown deer that behave much like the silly cartoon characters they’ve been depicted by over the years. In reality though, nothing could be further from the truth.

Moose are intelligent animals with sharp senses and they’re incredibly fast and agile. Unbeknownst to many people, moose can be very temperamental, aggressive, and down-right dangerous! In fact, far more people have been hurt and even killed by moose over the years than by bears…who seem to get all the publicity for being a threat to humans.

Since both moose and people tend to spend time in similar areas of habitat, such as flat, lower elevation areas of woods and wetlands along lakes and river systems, it’s not uncommon for uneducated tourists or outdoor enthusiasts such as fishermen, hikers, campers, and wildlife viewers to get into trouble when encountering a moose. Moose can also be a source of potential danger to folks in more urban areas where they sometimes live or pass through, such as Anchorage, Alaska. But, no matter where you may encounter a moose, either in the wild or walking down the city streets, there are some things to be aware of to stay safe around these huge, powerful animals.

 

Never Approach a Moose

moose safety - Never Approach a Moose
Never approach a wild moose for any reason!

Much like bears, who again get most of the blame for being a danger to humans, moose don’t like it much when you become a perceived threat to their food, their family, or their personal space, and they also don’t like to be surprised. So first and foremost, never approach a moose at close range for any reason! Unfortunately, a common sight while driving through tourist-heavy areas of moose country in places like Alaska is to see people pull over, get out of their vehicles, and try to walk right up to a moose while it’s browsing around in order to get a close-up photo, a cellphone selfie, or even to try to feed the moose a cheeseburger or donut!

When moose of either sex feel threatened, such as when a cow perceives a threat toward its calves, or when a bull just plain gets aggravated, as they tend to get aggressive during the rut (breeding season) they may respond to what they perceive as a threat or annoyance by charging, stomping or kicking who or whatever is the source of that threat or agitation. And, as you can imagine, when you have an animal that can be well over a thousand pounds and can run thirty-five miles per hour charging, stomping or kicking you, it’s not going to end well!

 

Never Harass a Moose

Never Harass a Moose
Intentionally harassing a moose is simply asking for big, BIG trouble!

While invading a moose’s personal space or doing something that would be perceived as a threat is a recipe for disaster, even more so perhaps is purposely harassing moose. Moose have a tough life, especially during the winter months when they have to fight hard for survival in very harsh conditions. Moose can be in a bad mood to begin with from being hungry or worn out from enduring the challenges of winter weather, so it’s not uncommon for them to have little patience for noisy vehicles getting too close or honking at them, people throwing things or yelling at them, or dogs chasing them around and barking at them. In fact, moose typically don’t like dogs at all and will readily kick or stomp a pesky canine.

 

Never Feed Moose

Never Feed Moose
Feeding wild moose is a recipe for disaster…for both yourself, and other humans who come into contact with the moose later. Never feed moose!

A common saying in regard to feeding bears is, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” Once a wild bear becomes conditioned to human food, it’s usually not too long before it gets itself in trouble and possibly becomes a serious threat to the safety of humans. The same is true of moose. Moose that get used to people feeding them or having easy access to human food can become very unpredictable and temperamental. The more a moose gets fed, the more they start thinking that everybody they encounter has a delicious snack for them, and when they don’t, they can get upset and become aggressive. As a result, when moose start regularly charging people, especially in urban areas, they have to be put down by wildlife officials.

 

Aggressive Moose Warning Signs

Aggressive Moose Warning Signs
Much like other mammals, moose will communicate in their body language that they’re getting angry or agitated.

Much like other mammals such as bears, moose display warning signs in their body language when they get agitated and angry and are about to possibly launch an attack. Moose will lay back their ears, bristle up the fur around their head and neck, and possibly even lick their lips, like a dog that’s about to bite. They may also start to slowly approach with their head in a more downward position…which can be a prelude to a charge.

When encountering a moose, whether it’s in a wild or urban setting, and whether it’s acting aggressively or not, give it plenty of space, immediately look for potential escape routes to safely get around the moose, and as an added precaution, try to stay close to some kind of a protective barrier, such as a large tree or some other kind of obstacle, just in case the moose does decide to charge. And, if the moose does charge, run away and get out of the line of attack as fast as possible. Which, by the way, is the exact opposite of what you’d do in a bear attack, as running away only intensifies the chase instinct for most bears. While moose can run very fast, they generally don’t chase people too far and will stop once the person is out of the immediate area.

If you accidentally stumble upon a moose that’s resting or in close quarters and there’s no time or place to run to, pepper spray and other deterrent devices that are commonly used on bears can be effective on moose as well, which you can read more about here. Finally, if a moose does knock you down and begins kicking and stomping, as a last resort, curl up in a ball to protect your head, neck and vital organs and wait till the moose moves on. Obviously, this would be a very painful and life-threatening ordeal, which is why one should never provoke a moose in the first place and always be safe and respectful around these massive, and sometimes temperamental animals.

 

Unintentional Threats

collisions with moose, moose accidents
Collisions with moose are the leading cause of unintentional injury and death…for both humans and moose.

One of the most common ways that people get seriously injured by moose, as well as moose getting hurt and killed by people, is collisions with vehicles, especially during the dark winter months when visibility is low and road conditions are often icy. Moose can dart out into oncoming traffic when least expected, which again can have fatal consequences for both humans and moose. So pay attention to moose warning or crossing signs along the roads in moose country, slow down, and keep your eyes open at all times.

So there you have it, that’s an overview of how to stay safe in moose country. To watch the video version of this blog article, click here.

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(Sources: Personal experience and observation, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.)