By Jenny Neyman
Becoming an orphaned moose calf in June in a busy bear corridor near the Kenai River a block away from the Sterling Highway — ramping up to the peak of summer traffic, no less — is not the luckiest start to life. But for one young bull moose calf, finding itself in the Sterling yard of animal lovers Joe Menz and Judy Warren may have been about the luckiest place to face that situation, as Menz and neighbor, Tim Mankee, attempted to capture the calf so it could be taken to the protective pens of the Alaska Moose Federation.
The calf and its mother have been hanging around Menz and Warren’s home on Barbara Street, in between Suzie’s Diner and the Sterling Senior Center, for the last two weeks, Menz said. The calf was born not far from the house — through the trees on a neighboring lot with an abandoned trailer. Cow and calf have been browsing through the gravel-road, forested neighborhood this spring, seeming to prefer Menz and Warren’s yellow house as a home base.
“He’s been here so long all he knows is the house. For two weeks I’d see him turn around, stare at the house. He’d go across the street, turn around, stare at the house,” Menz said.
He and Warren kept their two dogs under house arrest out of respect for the moose, but even
when the dogs would go out they and the moose seemed to grow used to each other, to the point where ever their younger dog, a female basenji named Sammie, didn’t feel the need to indulge any of her hunting-breed tendencies.
“She just wanted to play chase. But she knew that the moose was in trouble, she didn’t try to go after it. She was more curious than anything,” Menz said.
The cow seemed to be in poor health. She was small, only about 2 to 3 years old herself, making this calf likely her first. Menz said that she was eating fine, but didn’t seem to get much energy from her browsing, so he worried she was ill.
Menz and Menkee, a friend in the neighborhood, started “feeding” the moose, by cutting down branches and saplings of trees moose prefer to eat. It’s illegal to purposefully feed wildlife, and even negligent feeding — such as leaving food unsecured — can net a fine. But Menz and Menkee asked Fish and Game what they could and couldn’t do for the moose. Providing alfalfa or other non-natural browse is not allowed, but cutting down trees on their own property so the cow and calf could reach them is fine. So that’s what they started doing last week, with the moose chomping right through anything they cut.
“Her eyes and everything looked OK, but she wasn’t moving much — always just grazing, lying down, grazing, lying down. She’d be lying there and she’d be panting so hard, like she was ready to give labor,” Menz said. “The last day before she died she ran around here in circles, snorting and growling, like she was just trying to get her lungs to breathe. It scared me — I didn’t know what was going on — and the little calf just sat there watching her — didn’t know what was going on, either. You could see his front legs shaking.”