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Moose in need of protection

Posted in Animals, Nature on Saturday, 3 November 2007

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In Europe, we call it the elk, in North America it is the moose, but either way it is the largest living member of the deer family. Sometimes growing to a height of seven feet, and maybe weighing more than 1,000 lb., the male, or bull, moose has a set of antlers which is second to none. The antlers are curious in that they branch out from the side of the head, and grow sideways rather than forwards. They do not reach full size until the moose is eight or nine years old; then they may be as much as five feet across from tip to tip. Each January the adult moose sheds its antlers, and the new pair are not fully grown until August.

Other points which make the moose easy to recognize are its long and thin-looking legs, a strange pouch of skin, called the “bell,” which hangs from the throat, and a drooping muzzle which gives the moose the appearance of having a very Roman nose. The female (cow) moose in winter has a lighter-coloured coat than the bull, whose long, coarse hair varies in shade from dark brown to a dirty grey. The coats of both the bull and the cow are finer during the summer months.

At one time moose were quite common anywhere between the north part of the United States and the north of Canada, but ruthless hunters killed them in such numbers that the herds decreased at an alarming rate. In New Brunswick alone it was said that on one shoot hundreds of moose were killed, stripped of their hides (for leather), and then left to rot.

As a result, moose became scarce in many areas, and are now mostly found in Alaska, where they are protected by game laws. On the whole they tend to remain in the more deserted areas, in summer on marshy ground or near rivers and lakes, in winter among the forests on higher ground. Despite their size, moose can move swiftly and almost silently through these wooded areas. During the snows of winter they make their homes in a “moose-yard.” Each family of moose, normally a bull, a cow, and two seasons’ fawns, trample down the deep snow to make the winter yard, in a part of the country where there is enough food, in the form of trees like the birch, the maple and the fir.

In the summer, when they like to wade into rivers and lakes to feed on the water plants there, the fawns are born. The bulls fight fiercely for the cows in the mating season, and can be highly dangerous. Many hunters find targets for their guns by “moose-calling”; by imitating the sound of the cow’s call they attract any bull moose in the area. Calves are born in May, in some very secluded spot, and the cow will turn savagely on any intruder, even attacking men if she thinks they are too near her fawns.

As soon as dawn appears, moose begin feeding, breaking off to rest when the sun is up, then feeding for an hour or so around midday. Another rest in the afternoon, a feed in the evening, and then they lie down for the night. Moose generally lie facing away from the direction of the wind, so that the scent or sound of approaching danger is carried on the wind.

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