By Sally Griffin
On Father’s Day this year, a time when fathers were looking forward to enjoying their golf game in Arvada, a moose decided to join the games. Yes, I mean that big, four-legged, dark-furred ungulate with velvety-horns, that can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. If you have ever been close-up to a moose, this sight would not have a good effect on your golf game. But the local police had experienced this before and worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to tranquilize and tag the young juvenile male. They, then, relocated him. Most moose and other wild animals will usually stay where they are moved to according to Jennifer Churchill, spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. However, this moose evidently has decided that he likes the urban scene.
A week later, the same moose, our urban moose, showed up at Flatirons Crossing in Broomfield, hanging out around a men’s haberdashery. After seeing how much traffic he could stop (and, trust me, you don’t want to challenge a moose with your car), he bedded down at Men’s Warehouse for several hours. This time, a veterinarian and Parks and Wildlife officers tranquilized him. After staggering around for a few minutes, he was finally loaded into a trailer. This time, his new place of residence is South Park, which in no way could be called an urban setting, but it does have female moose who might tempt him to rethink his urban ways.
Before the 1980s moose were seldom seen in Colorado, particularly not in urban settings. Now the Colorado moose population has far surpassed the state’s target maximum number. While moose in Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming are dwindling, Colorado moose are thriving. There are 2,995 moose in Colorado, according to the 2016 post-hunt estimate, a 17 percent increase, and 70 live in the Front Range west and north of Denver. Moose here, along with other cold-weather species, like lynx and wolverines, have found the high altitudes to their liking.
Another factor may be that they lack natural predators in Colorado’s high country. Mountain lions and black bears seem to avoid them and go for easier prey. Probably smart on the predator’s part, because a mama moose is ferocious in protecting her offspring.
“They aren’t really afraid of many things because of their size,” according to Churchill. Parks and Wildlife is examining how many moose we can sustain and whether they can co-exist in close proximity to people. There is concern that moose looking for new territory may have increased conflicts with people. Particularly, if we have urban moose that prefer the city to the country.
Unlike our sociable, urban moose, most moose are solitary and roam alone. With their dark fur, they blend well into the pine forests in the mountains. And they are big! As mentioned before they can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. They lack upper front teeth and use their lower teeth to consume as much as 70 pounds a day of vegetation. They swim well. Their legs seem too long for their body. For big animals, they are quite swift and can run at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Their vision is blurry, but, they have keen ears and big noses that precisely detect smells. Long, coarse hair keeps them warm, even above timberline. Their long head, overhanging snout, and bell (the swinging flap hanging from their throat) gives them a distinct silhouette. The flattened antlers on bull moose can reach up to five feet in width. However, in younger bull moose, it is not uncommon for them to have antlers similar to those of an adult male.
The moose breeding season, or rut, begins in mid-to-late September and runs through October. Both bulls and cows are aggressive during breeding season. The bulls set up territories and attract cows with low grunting sounds that can be heard for long distances. Cows give birth in May and June. If the habitat is good twins, are common and, perhaps, even triplets. Moose may live up to 20 years in the wild.
According to the Parks and Recreation website, the survival rate of collared moose is 90 percent or above for adult bulls and cows. Approximately 75 calves are born to every 100 cows, and 21 percent of the calves born are twins. Since release, 42 of the collared animals have died. Seven deaths were related to capture. Seven of the animals were killed by vehicles. Three died because of old age. The rest were killed by hunters or indeterminate causes.
In recent years, as can be expected, moose-human conflicts have arisen. Some have been deadly. The former Grand Lake mayor, Louis Heckert, on his walk to church, was repeatedly butted by a moose and later died of his injuries. A toddler was trampled in Grand County when a moose charged out of the forest. A number of hikers have been stomped and injured severely. Dogs can make the situation worse. Probably, because the moose regards dogs as predators, the moose will become extremely aggressive. Parks and Wildlife provides the following tips:
• Keep dogs on short leashes.
• Move slowly.
• Back off when moose put their ears back, roll their eyes or appear aggressive.
• Carry a wildlife pepper spray.
• Keep a safe distance.
Having seen moose up close in Minnesota and while on vacation in Canada, in my opinion, the only safe way to observe a moose is with binoculars – even urban moose. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t dig out my binoculars if our own urban moose returns.
For information on viewing and hunting moose, and their introduction into Colorado, go to: www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/MooseReintroductionProgram.aspx.