Bear kills two tamed moose


May 13, 2021

Courtesy of Steve Kroschel.

Karen, a tamed moose at the Kroschel Wildlife Center, was killed by a brown bear on May 5.

A male brown bear killed two tamed moose at the Kroschel Wildlife Center on May 5, the town's first major bear-related incident of 2021. The bear was subsequently shot under the state's Defense of Life or Property (DLP) law, and its meat will be fed to the wildlife center's wolverines.

When pajama-clad wildlife center owner Steve Kroschel walked by the moose enclosure on May 5 at 7:30 a.m., he found himself face to face with a charging brown bear.

"There was a big male grizzly in full-on charge in the snow, heading straight for me. It smashed into the (chain-link) fence of the moose yard. That kept him from taking me out," Kroschel said. "Even if I had had pepper spray, I wouldn't have been able to pull it out. It was so fast."

Kroschel ran from the scene, toward the safety of his cabin.

"It was one of those dreams people have where you can't run fast enough. It was like that but for real. I grabbed my firearm and called a neighbor," Kroschel said.

He and the neighbor walked back to the moose enclosure where Kroschel had first seen the bear.

"I looked in the snow, and oh my god, there was this big mound, a snow grave with a hoof sticking out of the top. I just broke down. I couldn't believe it," Kroschel said. Close by, he found a second mound.

The two cows that were killed-Karen and Laura-were "like family," according to Kroschel, particularly Karen who had been with him since 2012.

The wildlife center, which is licensed by the state, will periodically take in orphaned moose calves. Karen was a calf abandoned in Haines in 2012. Laura came to Kroschel two years ago from Cordova. Kissing Karen was a tradition for many wildlife center visitors. There are dozens of photos online of guests feeding her carrots "Lady and the Tramp"-style.

"(The two cows) have these big, liquid eyes when they look at you," Kroschel said. "We found a skull that was cleaned up-it looked like all the flesh had been vacuumed off. That head, countless thousands of people had kissed. It was such a macabre scene."

Kroschel informed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) of the incident and was instructed to kill the bear, which was determined to pose a threat. He enlisted two friends, who shot the bear that evening when it returned to the moose enclosure.

"From the place it was shot, it had gone about forty feet. It was laying there still. It was very sad. There was a lot of death that day," he said.

Kroschel turned over the claws, pelt and skull to ADFG, as required by law.

"The bear body, we put in the freezer. It's very good wolverine food," Kroschel said. With help, he dug up the moose bodies, and processed and froze the meat.

ADFG biologist Carl Koch visited the wildlife center on May 6 to investigate the incident.

Kroschel said he and Koch followed bear signs through the property to determine how the animal entered. He said this is the first time in the 20 years he's operated the center that a bear has shown interest in his animals. His center houses other species including reindeer, wolf, bear and wolverine.

Kroschel, who has boobytrapped doors with bear spray to discourage bear break-ins in the past, said he's planning to increase security measures, including clearcutting the swamp in the moose enclosure, building a stable and electrifying the fence.

Karen and Laura were the only moose at the center. Whether Kroschel receives moose calves in the future is entirely dependent on ADFG, according to Kroschel. The state is reviewing his new safety proposal.

"It's a bear, and it ate two moose. Bears eat moose," Koch said, adding that he's limited in what he can say due to the ongoing permit review.

The DLP kill occurred earlier in the year than in recent years, Koch said, but it's not that unusual, especially given the late snow.

"Usually bears come out of their dens hungry. This year, there's a lot more snow than normal. A lot of the things they'd try to eat are buried under snow, especially in the upper valley," he said

Haines has seen an increase in human-bear conflict in recent years. Last year, in the Haines-Skagway game management unit, 49 bears were killed-a combination of legal hunt kills, bears shot in defense of life or property and other human-caused bear deaths.

In response, ADFG severely reduced the bear harvest limit to help regrow the population. The new limit is five with an additional allowance of two DLP kills. Any DLPs beyond the two-bear limit count toward the harvest limit. If at any point two female bears are killed, the department will close the hunt.

As of Monday, there had been one legal hunt and one DLP in 2021, both male bears.


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