Urban moose calves a risk to mountain bikers and good Samaritans

A moose in deep snow. Photo: National Park Service. Alaska Dispatch.Warning: If you’re planning to strap on a helmet and ride your mountain bike on the single-track trails at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, you’re at high risk of coming too close to a moose cow with a slow, awkward calf in tow.

And if you happen to see one of those calves on its own, even if it appears to be orphaned, touching it could be dangerous, officials warn. It’s also illegal.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Anchorage area biologist Dave Battle said that on the Kincaid single-track trails, “high speed equals high risk.”

The 9 miles of winding, narrow dirt trails flanked by the high foliage and tall trees of the popular park can make mountain bikers an easy target for protective cows guarding their young.

“When a mountain biker comes around a blind curve and a moose is there, that moose is not moving,” Battle said. “We kind of single out mountain bikers, especially on single-tracks, because you just can’t see very well and they’re going very fast; they practically run into moose, or get kicked.”

According to Battle, no incidents at the park have been reported this year but he said they often go unreported. Frequently, Battle said, Fish and Game hears later of encounters with aggressive moose because of word of mouth or social media.

In late May 2014, a group of mountain bikers was charged by an aggressive moose. The incident was caught on a GoPro camera. None of the riders was injured.

“Every year we have a few close encounters or actual stompings,” Battle said. “It’s common for us to have two to four mountain bikers getting stomped or run off their bikes by a protective moose.”

“This time of year, it’s the cows’ instinct to stand their ground,” Battle said. “Moose do that a lot of the time anyways, but this time of year the calves are so young and they can’t move fast.”

This year, a video of a man carrying a moose calf across a road in East Anchorage went viral.

“Picking up calves is illegal,” Fish and Game spokesperson Ken Marsh said. “It can be dangerous for you. It can be dangerous for the calf. If mom is nearby and you pick it up, you’re the one that orphaned it.”

“I think those viral videos are a feel-good thing,” Marsh added. “It’s good-hearted Samaritans trying to do the right thing but it might have gone against our message.”

Marsh added that the videos could prompt more such incidents.

Battle said it’s common for a cow and calf to get separated by roads or fences. Sometimes, cows leave their calves for three or four days in what they believe is a safe location.

“It’s human nature that we see this little baby animal and we want to help,” Battle said. “The best thing to do is to call the authorities, step back and make sure you understand the situation. Make sure you’re actually helping.”

Contact Megan Edge at megan@alaskadispatch.com, Google+ or Twitter

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