Loose Moose

My wife recently mentioned in passing that more people are killed by moose each year than by bears. It’s not the sort of thing I was expecting to hear as we pushed the shopping trolley out of Morrisons but I suppose, after thirty years of marriage, what else is there left to talk about?

It’s the sort of trivia that can catch you off guard, especially when you never really think of moose (well not here in Scotland, you don’t). But when I do, I tend to think of them as passive, friendly creatures that are rather cute, if a little on the big side. With coat racks stuck on their heads.

So once we’re in the car I immediately Google moose and death – not a search I thought I’d be making when I got up first thing this morning – and scroll through the first link I find [1]. And I see that she is right. My wife is often right, but we can leave that for another post.

As I read through the link, it quickly becomes clear why more people die at the hands (or hooves) of moose. Rather than being trampled on and savagely chewed to death by these giant beasts, it seems that people drive into those that wander onto roads and then come off worst on impact. The articles doesn’t mention how many moose also die, or even manage to walk (or limp) away from such accidents, but colliding with a 1,500-pound animal at 70 mph must be like putting jelly in a tin box and throwing it hard against a wall.

The article sets the record straight right from the start:

‘Although moose aren’t more dangerous than bears in terms of behavior, they pose a greater threat of injuring you simply because of their population size. Moose outnumber bears nearly three to one in Alaska, wounding around five to ten people in the state annually.’

So it’s the sheer number of them and their wandering into traffic that’s raised the incidence. So they don’t kill us, per se. They are not murderers like bears. We simple die when they don’t watch where they are walking and we don’t brake in time. Or we’re not watching where we’re driving. Or both. So it’s more like manslaughter. Or mooseslaughter.

Mooseslaughter, now that I’ve made up the word, looks a lot like moose’s laughter, but I don’t think anyone would find things that funny if it happened to them. For one thing, the people in the car would be dead, so not much mirth there, methinks, and even if the moose survived I don’t think it would be laughing that much either. Largely because moose can’t laugh, or at least I don’t think they can. Or maybe they can, but they just don’t have sense of humour. It’s possible. I mean, how would you feel if you went through life with a coat rack strapped to your head?

Further down the article, reading about their population size, I was quite taken with the neat fact that ‘Moose outnumber bears nearly three to one in Alaska’. My immediate thought, for some reason, was that this would be the sort of thing you’d see in endless reports about ongoing feuds between the two species, culminating in some pivotal historical battle for territory in the Great Beast Battle of Alaska. I imagined both sides lined up in their thousands, determined and bitter, ready to do battle and die for their cause – hooves and antlers versus claws and jaws. Who would you put your money on? Sure, the bears have the advantage of sheer aggression, you might be thinking, but who’s to say moose aren’t pretty clever on the quiet and use their numbers to create the mother of all pincer (or antler) movements to trap the bears and, well, hoof them to death before wandering on to the roads for a street party?

And don’t forget that the bears’ morale might be weakened before the first shot is fired, so to speak, with unrest in the ranks due to in-fighting between black bears and grizzlies: constant taunts by the black bears that grizzlies run away when humans run at them (or is it the other way round?), and mocking from the grizzlies that black bears are so easily fooled when a human plays dead (or is it the other way round?).

This fascinating wildlife narrative takes an interesting new turn when I go on to read, ‘The number of moose attacks spikes in September and October during mating season.’ You see, up to this point, no mention has been made of attacks. So far we’re all feeling sorry for the moose being hit by cars, and a bit silly for people crashing into them. But now I start to worry that there is a malicious, maniacal moose menace after all. Moose attacks?

Apparently, some moose venture into towns looking for food in people’s rubbish bins. So if you’re near a bin when one of them is there then I suppose the moose feels like it was there first, and so it feels a bit threatened. Which is fair enough. But if you come across a moose rummaging around your wheelie bin during its mating season, then you might get a bit more than you bargained for. It could be attacking you to defend some old teabags and a bit of leftover cabbage, but it could also have a more pressing and, frankly, disturbing agenda on its mind.

I then learn that moose often do not confront humans unless they are provoked.’ Now I can totally identify with that, because I would confront a human if they were provoking a moose. Furthermore, moose especially dislike dogs because they run up and bark at them’. Again, I’m with them on that. It seems I have more in common with moose than I first thought. Who knew? They need to be kept on a lead anyway. Dogs, I mean, not moose.

And now I’m wondering what noise a moose makes (apart from the one that arises when a car hits it)? I can’t imagine they bark or growl or, well, moo? Do they have a mating call? Do they have a chat up line for when they come up behind you at the rubbish bins?

There can also be ‘food attacks’. Now this is less to do with moose barging in on your picnic and more to do with the fact that you shouldn’t feed one and then stop, because that really pisses them off, according to the article. Well that would piss anyone off. You can’t blame the moose for that. The lesson here seems to be to not start feeding a moose unless you have an infinite food supply or an effective exit strategy. All of which explains this part:

‘…if you notice its hairs raised, head down and ears back, that’s your cue to hightail it in the opposite direction. And when a moose licks its lips that doesn’t mean it finds you attractive. That’s your signal to make tracks.’

In the history of interactions between moose and man, I wonder how many humans have died after feeding one, running out of food, panicking, making a run for it, and then being chased, caught and hoofed to death by a hungry, pissed-off moose? Let’s just hope no one has been caught under those circumstances during the mating season! That would surely cause confusing emotions on both sides, especially if the moose did lick its lips…

It makes sense, then, that further down the article I read this:

‘If you don’t get away fast enough, and a moose knocks you down, don’t struggle. Curl into the fetal position and cover your head with your arms. Trying to move or beat it off will only cause the moose to continue kicking and stomping you.’

Now this makes total sense to me because I’ve been married for almost thirty years, so it is definitely something with which I can identify.  

So, more people are killed each year by moose than by bears and now we know why; there are so many more of the former and our deaths are mostly from car–moose collisions. We learn all this as my wife drives home while I read out all these nuggets of useful information. Was she driving more carefully or was I projecting?  

As we reach the house without hitting so much as a squirrel, I decide to keep to myself the one last thing I read, which is that ‘the males are polygamous and will seek several females to breed with.’We’re unpacking the shopping, so now is neither the time nor place to discuss this one. But perhaps it’s not just any moose that are wandering onto roads and getting hit by cars. Maybe it’s only the males, and they’re not actually wandering at all. Maybe the females pushed them.

[1]  Why Are Moose More Dangerous Than Bears?

Also check out: Woody Allen’s famous stand-up routine: The Moose