A few weeks ago Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) began receiving reports from residents in Hamilton about a moose calf wandering around the streets of Hamilton.
FWP wildlife biologist Rebecca Mowry said the agency received several reports from citizens who sighted a young moose in town. One person saw another person feeding it by hand over a fence, she said. Another reported seeing someone walk up and touch it. According to Mowry both those things, feeding the animals and approaching or especially touching them are precisely the worst things you can do for the animal, other than running it over by accident, which is what happened to one of the moose calves.
It was only after they had decided to try and capture the moose calf that they discovered, in the process, that there were two of them. Once they spotted them and realized that there were two they departed and made plans and preparations to return and re-locate both animals. But the night before they returned, one of the young animals was hit by a car and injured.
According to FWP Game Warden Justin Singleterry, when game wardens arrived in the morning the injured moose was euthanized, but the other moose calf had disappeared and could not be found. It was eventually found couple of days later hiding in someone’s yard. The animal was successfully captured and transported and released in the Lost Horse area.
Mowry estimated that the twin calves were about six months old and should have been with their mother. She said normally a calf will stay with its mother for up to a year before going off on its own. She said any number of things could have happened to the mother. She may have died or been killed by a hunter. Or they may have just been separated for some reason and not managed to get back together.
“They are cute when they are young,” said Mowry, “but having a moose or a moose calf in town is dangerous for both the moose and for people. If the young calf is tolerated and perhaps even fed, she said, people in town could soon have a bull elk in rut on their hands. Or a new mom bent on raising her own young one’s in town.
Game Warden Singleterry echoed Mowry’s warning. He advised keeping your distance “no matter how friendly they appear” and never approaching any moose, much less trying to pet one.
“The one’s in town may seem docile,” said Singleterry, “but don’t let their complacency fool you, they can be really dangerous.” Even a small moose can do some serious harm to a person.
Feeding the animals, according to Singleterry is probably the single worst thing you can do. It disrupts the animal’s metabolism which has evolved to include enduring long lean winters. It also habituates them to staying in town continually.
“Typically, moose will hang out along the river,” said Singleterry, “But every so often they may walk into town and lay down in someone’s yard. But they usually don’t stay. They get up and wander back down to the river, unless somebody starts feeding them. That’s when they quit going back to the river and that’s when we start getting inundated with calls.” He said at that point, depending on what the moose does, they may drug the animal and relocate it somewhere, or they may have to euthanize it.
“As long as people don’t feed them and keep a good distance from them they really don’t cause a whole lot of issues at all,” said Singleterry. “and it’s kind of cool for people to see.”
Singleterry said that the mother moose that has been seen frequently over the last few years in River Park and seen with twins this year is still there and has been spotted in the park with her twins since the latest incident.
Mowry said that moose are commonly sighted in the city parks along the river. She said one day last summer a man walked through every park along the river in a single day and saw a total of of 6 moose.
According to Mowry FWP doesn’t count moose the way they count deer and elk due to their solitary habits. Instead they use hunting statistics and hunter reports to make an estimate. The moose populations are considered holding steady in most areas of the valley except up the West Fork were only one moose permit was issued this past season and permits may be reduced to zero up the West Fork this year.