In 2020, this Mud Bay moose calf was repeatedly approached by people trying to pet and feed it, despite warnings from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (Courtesy photo/Travis Russell)
In 2020, this Mud Bay moose calf was repeatedly approached by people trying to pet and feed it, despite warnings from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (Courtesy photo/Travis Russell)

By the end of the week, some of the estimated 350 moose in the Haines area could start dropping calves and state wildlife managers are asking people to leave them alone. 

There are a few reasons, but one big one is that cows get defensive about their calves. Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife management biologist Carl Koch said each year managers around the state talk about serious incidents in their communities – things like a bear injuring someone. And he said he has always been struck by how many people have negative moose interactions in the same short four-week period in Anchorage. 

“Basically that’s going to happen now in Haines,” he said. “The calves get dropped and they’re not mobile yet, so mom has two choices – abandon the calf or protect it.” 

Another moose-related call Koch often gets is people fearing a calf has been orphaned. 

Newborn calves are too weak to follow their mothers around, so often cows will stash them in one place. 

“Maybe she goes off to eat and maybe she’s a little bit out of range – usually she’s close by,” Koch said. “The thing is, the calves are not really supposed to move around, it spreads their scent for predators. The cows will often eat a placenta and it gets rid of the scent.” 

But Koch said people see a small, defenseless-looking moose calf and they fear something bad will happen to it. 

“They’re cute when they’re young,” he said. 

When people call about a calf, Koch said the pattern is usually the same – he tells them to leave it alone, they’ll call six to eight hours later, “just begging me to do something.” 

Then within 36 hours, he’ll get another call with people reporting that the calf is gone and they’ve seen signs that a cow left with it. 

“That’s what you hope to have happen,” Koch said. But, it doesn’t always work out.

In 2020, some found a calf on the ground by a shed in Mud Bay. Koch said people tried to give it carrots, and discussed putting a blanket on it. 

“I’d made a plea on the radio to please stay away and I think that was a mistake,” he said. 

Several people pet it. Eventually Fish and Game stepped in and moved the calf in the hopes that its mother would return. But, she never came back. 

“I don’t think there was a happy outcome,” he said. 

Koch estimates that most of the moose calves in the Haines area will be born by the first week of June. He’s said if the weather cooperates, he’s headed out to start surveying moose populations to get a population estimate. 

Fish and Game started a capture and collar study on Chilkat Valley moose in 2019. Koch said they’ve collared at least 35 and so far he thinks the population is doing well.

It’s not just moose that Fish and Game staff hear about this time of year. Koch said he also gets a lot of calls about young brown bears.

Once mating season comes along, some yearlings get chased away by their mothers and Koch said they look pitiful – especially the yearling black bears. 

“They’re skinny, they’re not nursing anymore. They’re 60-80 pounds and sometimes even look smaller,” he said. “In Haines my phone in two weeks will be ringing off the hook. People will call about black bears orphaned. I’ll say, is it the size of a basketball or a golden retriever?”

If it’s the latter, Koch said it’s a yearling and it could just be a bear learning to live on its own. 

“If you’re really positive an animal is quote-unquote orphaned because you saw an adult get killed or something like that, call the wildlife trooper or us before you go taking any action.”