Alaskans See More Close Encounters With Marauding Moose

FOR years, moose have been viewed with affection in Alaska's largest city, reminders of the wilderness near the metropolis. The city's unofficial ambassador, making appearances in costume at conventions and in cartoons, is a moose named Seymour - as in ``See More'' of Anchorage - that sings a tune called ``Wild About Anchorage.''

But this winter, Anchorage residents have been reminded that close enounters with the wilderness can be frightening.

Heavy snows burying food sources have driven moose down from the mountains. Now the city that is home to 240,000 people is also being scoured by some 1,000 moose. The usually placid ungulates are hungry, agitated by the big-city noises and crowds, and poised for attack.

One attack proved fatal. An elderly man was kicked in the head Jan. 9 by a cow moose that had been pacing for hours with its calf in front of the University of Alaska at Anchorage. The moose was shot after it charged a professor days afterward. Later, its calf ran into a nearby street and was killed by a vehicle.

Since then, other agitated moose have charged, kicked, and stomped people and disrupted at least one ski race.

Moose are congregating on plowed roads, parking lots, sidewalks, groomed ski trails, and railway tracks - places where the walking is easier but the potential for clashes with humans is higher.

So far this winter, more than 700 moose have been killed in road collisions in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to the north, and the Kenai Peninsula to the south, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman says. Another 175 have been killed in train collisions.

Heightened concerns are fueling demands for moose advice. At the university, Department of Fish and Game biologists have presented ``moose awareness'' seminars, and at a recent student-safety fair officials gave out information on how wildlife behave on the bucolic campus.

An encounter with a maddened urban moose is often worse than one with a bear, said Mike McDonald, a Department of Fish and Game biologist who briefed students. Bears are ``actually a lot more predictable than people think,'' he said. But problem moose are usually acting on maternal instincts, he said. ``On a moose call, more often than not it's a cow and a calf in a schoolyard,'' he said.

Mr. McDonald and others at the Department of Fish and Game advise a policy of avoidance. A 1,000-pound moose at the door is cause for staying home from work or missing appointments, they say. If confronted by a moose ready to stomp, they suggest playing dead. The animal is likely to settle down if it perceives that the threat is gone. And feeding moose is taboo - it's illegal, dangerous, and unhealthy for the animals.

Now there are some calls for a citywide moose hunt, mainly from old-timers who recollect Anchorage's frontier past.

McDonald worries about a possible antimoose backlash. ``Bears have a reputation that's grown over the years, and we don't want moose to get the same reputation. As far as danger, they're both equivalent. But neither one of them deserves a bad reputation,'' he said.

But sentiments at the university were not particularly hostile.

``To me, it's kind of like an animal rebelling against man,'' student Renee Kimble said. ``I feel sorry for that man that was killed. But we've now entered their world, as far as I'm concerned. We've kind of built up this world around them, and now they're reacting.''

There are other indications that Anchorage residents retain affection for wild creatures, even if dangerous.

Last fall, an Alaska Zoo polar bear named Binky became a local celebrity after mauling two people who climbed fences in separate occasions to get in or near his cage. Local reaction favored the bear overwhelmingly. One company donated a special security fence for Binky's zoo home, and popular T-shirts and bumper stickers urged: ``Save Binky: Shoot the Humans,'' and ``Binky for Governor: Take a Bite Out of Crime.''

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