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What to do when you see a moose on the Kenai Peninsula

Two moose in Homer on September 2, 2023.
Jamie Diep
Two moose in Homer on September 2, 2023.

The part of the Kenai Peninsula stretching from Kasilof to Homer has one of the most dense moose populations in the region. As moose become more active and give birth to calves, it’s likely to spot one in the area. KBBI’s Jamie Diep spoke with Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jacob Pelham about how to be safe around moose.

The following is a transcript of an interview with Pelham that has been edited for brevity.

Jamie Diep: If you're outside walking, hiking or biking, what should you do if you see a moose

Jacob Pelham: I always recommend, first of all, keeping an eye out looking for moose, looking for other animals. Not only are they nice to see, it's nice to be aware of them.

But you also want to make a lot of noise, announce your presence, especially if you're going to be in areas where it's thick brush and alders. The last thing we want to do is surprise any of these animals, moose bears, anything like that. We want to make sure we make a lot of noise and announce our presence.

You can sing songs, you can just chat loudly with your hiking partner, you can, you know, just announce your presence by saying coming through coming through. So that way if we do encounter one of these animals that we at least have the point of being able to not surprise them.

JD:  What are some best practices to follow if you're out with a pet like a dog?

JP: I would recommend having that animal on a leash. If you don't have that animal on the leash, you need to make sure that you have good recall for that animal. I recommend some sort of recall collar and making sure that animal is in sight.

JD: What are some signs that a moose may be about to charge at you, and if one does charge at you, what should you do?

JP: You want to look at the body language of the animal. You can tell pretty quickly whether that animal is going to be nervous. They do what we call displacement behaviors. So a lot of times that's going to be eating more, sometimes they'll urinate, things like that. You'll see that moose hackles go up, the ears will go back. It’ll be licking its lips, the eyes will bulge a little bit, So you see a little bit more of the whites of the eyes.

It'll face you, animal will generally put his head down and start walking or trotting toward you with intention. If you do experience that, the best thing I can recommend is turn around and go the opposite direction of the animal as quickly as possible. And ideally, find something that you can have between you and that animal, whether it be a tree, a car, [if you can] get inside of a house, that'd be great.

If the animal tries to come around the other side of it, just play merry go around and keep that object between you and it. Eventually, that animal will disengage and move on, assuming that you're not a threat anymore. And at that point, you just want to make sure you keep your distance so you don't provoke another charge.

JD: What should you do if you encounter a moose while you're driving?

JP Moose like to be more active in the mornings and the evenings when it's cooler out, things like that. So if you are driving and you see a moose on the side of the road, or crossing the road or something like that, the best practices to hit the hazards, the flashers on your vehicle so that way you can warn other people around you.

JD: It's about late spring right now and so many moose calves are being born. What should you do if you see one and more specifically, what should you do if you see one that's by itself?

JP: A lot of times, a cow moose will leave the calf moose alone. So first of all, let's address if you see a cow and a calf moose, make sure we give them extra space because those cow moose are going to be very protective of the little ones. They're going to be extra testy and more likely to charge to defend that calf. So if we do see a cow with a calf, we want to make sure we have plenty of space. If we have to take pictures of them, make sure we can take pictures of those animals from a safe distance. And we have somewhere to hide, just in case we happen to encroach on that animal's personal space. But we want to avoid doing that as much as possible.

Now if we see a moose calf all by itself, say in your backyard or the side of the road, and just because that animal’s by itself does not mean that that animal has been orphaned. A lot of times, the cow moose will leave the calf alone, that cow would then go and browse and eat a bunch of vegetation to come back. And then nurse that calf.

A lot of times just like human children, the calf moose don't always listen to the mom, so just because the mom leaves them in a safe spot doesn't mean that calf isn't going to get up and walk around and check things out. And then a lot of times, that's what people see. That can also lead the cow to having a little bit longer of a period of time for them to find that calf, but they do vocalize with each other and they will find each other so nothing to necessarily be concerned with.

JD: We've mainly been talking about calving season and what's happening around that time. But are there other times of the year where you should be more careful around moose?

JP: Year round, you want to be careful around moose, right? The two biggest times a year where we need to be careful of moose being more testy would be the winter time and also in the spring time.

Bull Moose can be a little more aggressive in the fall during the rut, but we typically don't see too much of the issues or conflicts that time of year but if you do come across a bull moose in the September timeframe. September, October, just keep in mind that animal might be in rut and could be a little more aggressive at that point.

JD: Is there anything else you want to add that you feel would be important for people to know? 

JP: Just make sure we really announce our presence when we’re in the woods and this goes for bear safety as well. We want to announce our presence. We want to carry bells, leash our dogs or have them under control, you know, we like to be outside and sharing that habitat with these animals and we just want to do our best to avoid conflict. So if we keep those things in mind we can have a happy and healthy summer.