GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – With healthy moose populations now found throughout Colorado and a growing number of people in the state, the potential for dangerous interactions is on the rise, say Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.
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In response to the growing concern and a recent Breckenridge moose run-in, the agency is promoting a new video illustrating how people can be safe and responsible around these giant mammals. CPW urges everyone to take a few minutes to watch the video, air it on community television stations and in-house hotel networks, post on private and public social media accounts, rental car outlets or anywhere it may get a view.
The six-minute CPW production features District Wildlife Manager Elissa Slezak of Summit County offering information about how to prevent conflicts with moose.
Last May, Slezak and her community found themselves in the spotlight after several high-profile incidents involving people harassing or feeding moose made national headlines.
“Thanks to our sportsmen and the hard work of CPW managers, we have very healthy moose populations in Colorado,” said Slezak. “They are a charismatic species that inspire awe and fascination, but people also need to understand how dangerous moose can be if you are irresponsible around them. A moose that is provoked can seriously injure or even kill someone.”
Slezak says people can enjoy watching moose if done properly and from a safe distance, but based on her experience, too many people are uninformed about moose behavior and frequently get too close. By following the information offered in the video, most moose conflicts can be prevented.
“Moose do not fear humans so it can lead some to think they are friendly – I assure you they are not,” she said. “Many people get into trouble because moose appear docile at first and don’t run away when people approach, but when a moose has decided you’ve invaded their space they can move very fast and its often too late to get away. And when it comes to defending their young, cow moose will protect their calves very aggressively, especially in the presence of dogs.”
Slezak says moose react to dogs as they would to wolves – one of their primary predators. Moose will often attack even the most gentle dog as if it were a wolf, especially if the dog barks at or chases the moose. Unfortunately, the dog typically runs back to its owner bringing an angry, 1,000-pound moose back with it.
“The dog often gets away but the owner cannot escape and ends up injured instead,” she said. “We’ve seen several instances where that exact scenario played out and the dog owner was seriously hurt.”
Moose typically respond to threats by raising their hackles on the back of their neck, licking their snout and pinning their ears back. They may bluff-charge at first, then turn back and charge aggressively, kicking and stomping the threat with their sharp hooves and powerful front legs.
“If you see moose do any of those things, run away as fast as possible,” said Slezak. “Get behind a tree, a boulder or a car, then wait for the moose to leave on it’s own. You won’t be able to ‘shoo’ a moose away, and if you try, it could make the situation worse.”
Slezak says another major problem she encounters frequently is the number of people that intentionally feed moose, and other wildlife. She says it is the height of irresponsibility to feed any wild animal other than birds.
“We understand people want to see wildlife up close, but feeding a wild animal is an extremely poor choice,” she said. “Feeding includes everything from tossing table scraps to placing salt blocks out for wildlife. We see it happen far too often and we will continue to issue citations. Not only is it illegal, it is also very unethical.”
Slezak says feeding wildlife changes the animal’s natural behavior, habituates them to humans and spreads disease. Feeding dramatically increases the risk of a conflict, which essentially becomes a death sentence for the wild animal. Any time wildlife injures a human, a CPW officer must put the animal down to protect public safety, regardless of the circumstances.
“Do you want to be responsible for the needless death of moose because you fed it, or purposely got too close?” she said. “Who wants that kind of attention? With everyone on social media these days, you will not only get a ticket, you will also likely be publicly shamed for being foolish. I’ve seen it happen – that is not a situation you want to be in.”
Funded by sportsmen’s dollars generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, the relocation of Shiras moose to Colorado is one of CPW’s most successful management efforts in the agency’s 120-year history.
Beginning with the relocation of 12 moose to North Park in 1978, CPW managers now estimate there are over 2,500 moose living across the state and their populations continue to grow and expand.
“Compared to many other states where populations are decreasing, moose have adapted very well to Colorado’s habitat,” said Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. “With that success, we have been able to issue more hunting licenses to manage their population and the public now has more opportunity than ever before to view and enjoy the species.
Romatzke says along with the benefits of healthy moose populations, the public has a responsibility to learn about keeping all wildlife conflicts to a minimum.
“It’s not difficult to get the information,” he adds. “We suggest you watch the video, read the info on our website and follow the recommendations to protect yourself, and others around you.”