Seward snapshot: A hungry moose

Since the heavy snows last weekend, word-of-mouth had it that moose were out and about in Seward.  I hadn’t seen one since moving here and was eagerly hoping that my luck would change.  I wasn’t disappointed.

While out running errands on Saturday, we saw this beautiful female eating twigs along the side of the road.  We pulled the car over, stopping within 20-25 feet of her, and she was so intent on grazing she couldn’t have cared less.

Moose are ungulates (mammals with hooves) and are the largest member of the deer family.  An adult male can weigh up to 1600 pounds and grow to six feet in height.  Females can weight up to 800 pounds.

In the summer, moose spend most of their waking hours eating a variety of vegetation, taking advantage of abundant food sources so that they can bulk up for the winter, when they’re reduced to eating substandard sources of nutrition such as twig bark.  The average adult moose loses around 25 percent of its body weight during the winter, and if they don’t eat enough during the summer months, they’ll starve to death.

There are around 175,000 to 200,000 moose in Alaska.  Alaskan moose are the largest subspecies in North America and maybe the world (there’s a Siberian moose that rivals it in size), and the moose on the Kenai Peninsula are the largest in Alaska.  The Kenai moose are so special that in 1941 the federal government created a national moose conservation range (now the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge).

Moose often use roads in the winter because they’re are maintained and easier to navigate than the snowy back country.  Driving in moose territory is therefore dangerous, and Alaska has one of the highest rates of moose-automobile collisions in the world.  The problem is at its worst in the winter, when the days are short, roads icy, and food sources scarce.  An average of 250 moose are killed every year on the Kenai Peninsula alone (the total is around 800 for the entire state).  Fortunately, only a small number of humans (about one quarter of one percent) are killed in these collisions.

Moose are an important food source for Alaskans, and around 7000 moose are harvested each year in controlled hunts.  The meat of one moose can fill a freezer and feed a family for a year.  Interestingly, the carcasses of moose killed in collisions are also harvested and processed by individuals or donated to charities or to the needy.  Any Alaska resident can get on the “roadkill list;” you just have to be able to receive and process a carcass at a moment’s notice, day or night.

Fortunately, there was no concern for our beautiful girl, at least not today.  We enjoyed watching her as she meandered from tree branch to tree branch, and we drove away only after she left the roadside and headed into the forest.