Falling moose nearly takes out trooper in Anchorage

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Motorists here have seen the highway signs that warn of falling rocks, and they've seen the ones that warn of moose crossing.

Now Howard Peterson of the Alaska State Troopers wonders if they need a new sign: Watch for falling moose.

A swing-shift trooper based in Girdwood, Peterson was cruising the Seward Highway the night of Feb. 2 a couple miles north of McHugh Creek when something big and black fell from the sky, landing about 20 feet from his car.

"Falling rock!" he thought, ready to steer clear if it bounced onto the highway.

When the rock didn't roll or shatter, Peterson's brain came up with a crazy image: "Falling moose?"

An adult moose, wandering rocky terrain more suitable to the Dall sheep that populate it, plunged to its death from the tall cliffs that hug a highway famous for its scenery and wildlife.

The animal landed on the side of the road just a few yards in front of Peterson, who figures it fell 150 feet, maybe farther. He snapped a couple of photos and called one of the charities that salvage road kill to tell them there was a moose available at Mile 113.

Then he started wondering what happened. Did the moose jump?

"How would you say it - moose-icide? He probably thought he was the only moose, with all those sheep around," Peterson said.

More likely, though, something spooked the moose and it fell. It was windy that night, Peterson said, so maybe a gust startled it.

Or maybe the moose merely misstepped.

"I'm sure the moose didn't jump," state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott said. "They occasionally have bad days like the rest of us. They slip and fall. Maybe he was reaching for a branch and the snow just gave way."

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