FAIRBANKS - When Tina Buxbaum saw a cow moose walk through her yard with three moose calves in tow earlier this summer, just a few miles north of Fairbanks, she didn't give it much thought.
"Two years ago, she raised one calf; last year she raised two; and this year she has three," Buxbaum said.
Whether they are all hers is a question that has stirred debate among local moose experts.
Twins are rare in most moose populations, and triplets are almost unheard of. Throw in the fact that Game Management Unit 20B, which includes Fairbanks, has one of the lowest twinning rates in the state and the odds of a cow moose giving birth to triplets are lower than the sun in Barrow during the winter.
On top of that, moose have been known to "adopt" abandoned calves and raise them as their own, even if they already have one, or maybe two, calves.
Twice in recent years cow moose in Delta Junction have been photographed with four calves, but in both cases, biologists said it was almost certain that the cow adopted a pair of twins somewhere along the line because quadruplets have never been documented in moose and the calves appeared to be two different sizes.
"Cows get killed all the time on the (Fairbanks) road system and there are newborn calves looking around for mothers," said moose research biologist Rod Boertje with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. "It might just have to bawl a little bit and a cow comes over and adopts it.
"Moose are a species that are more apt to adopt, not like caribou," Boertje said. "If it was a caribou, it'd probably stomp the little critter to death."