When moose attack

A musher's close call with an ungulate serves as warning for others

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2007

KENAI - On a late December day Tobie Hansen was running his 12-dog team on a trail in the Kasilof area when he met with an unexpected attacker. A moose, spooked by Hansen's team, reared up on her hind legs and then weaved through his dog team as she tried to stomp on his dogs.

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Hansen ran his team as fast as he could, but no matter how fast the team ran they couldn't escape the moose.

"She'd totally spank me in a dog race," Hansen said.

After running through his dog team two or three times, the moose turned its attention to Hansen, running alongside him and trying to shove him and his sled off of the trail using her body.

"She started shoving me in the woods with me on my sled, and I dumped my sled and let go of the dogs to try and get away from her," he said. "I jumped in the woods and she started coming after me in the woods."

The dog team continued to run until they got caught in some branches and trees, while Hansen dove into the woods. But the moose wasn't content with just shoving Hansen off of his sled and ran after him. Hansen darted in between trees trying to dodge the moose's attack until finally the moose turned away.

Thinking the moose was going to resume her attack on his dogs, Hansen dashed back to the trail, but the moose was nowhere to be seen. Hansen wasted no time waiting to see if she would return and quickly evacuated the area with his team.

After the attack, Hansen's dog Marcus was left with a broken harness, but to Hansen's amazement, neither he nor his dogs were injured.

Looking back, Hansen said he couldn't think of what more he could have done to avert the moose's attack, and indeed there is little more that the victim of a moose attack can do other than run. Wildlife experts say that whatever a moose attack victim does, they certainly shouldn't try to stand their ground.

"With a moose I recommend people get out of there, run," said Larry Lewis, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife technician. "If you stand your ground they'll nail ya."

Lewis, who has been confronted with angry moose many times, said he has found that if he dodges a moose by ducking under, over or around other objects, the moose often will break off its attack.

Moose attacks tend to go up at this time of year, when moose are stressed due to low food availability and when they tend to migrate onto trails and roads where they don't have to plow through snow, but encounter more humans, dogs and vehicles.

Anyone who encounters a moose should always watch for signs of agitation, said Jeff Selinger, Fish and Game area management biologist.

Initially, an agitated moose may urinate, defecate and lick its lips. And if it lays back its ears, lowers its head and bristles the hairs on its back, then it's really time to get worried, Selinger said.

The main ingredient to avoiding a moose attack is to remain aware that moose can be dangerous and to remember that although big, moose can sometimes be hard to see, he said.

And don't be fooled into thinking that a moose is disinterested in your presence just because it turns its head away from you. Moose have great peripheral vision and sometimes turn their head to get a better look at you.

"Sometimes they don't see very good directly out in front of them so the animal may turn its head away from you, which some people mistake as, 'Well, he's not worried about me,'" said Lewis.

"But that animal's absolutely watching you."

Selinger said people can help reduce moose aggression by keeping garbage and livestock feed out of reach. He said feeding moose is illegal and can lead to moose aggression.

"That just gets the moose used to coming to people and then, when you don't have a handout for it, it can get angry," he said.



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