Why Are Moose More Dangerous Than Bears?

moose on road
Moose presence on the roads results in car crashes and even fatalities. cgering/Getty Images

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Although moose aren't more dangerous than bears in terms of behavior, they pose a greater threat of injuring you simply because of their population size. Moose outnumber bears nearly three to one in Alaska, wounding around five to 10 people in the state annually. That's more than grizzly bear and black bear attacks combined [source: Smith]. A 2011 CBS news report said that more people are injured by moose than bears each year but rarely are people killed by moose attacks.

Despite the incidence rates, moose do not tend toward natural aggression. The largest species of the deer family, Alaskan moose are the biggest in the world. But their size betrays their generally passive demeanor. Feeding off plants and tree bark, these herbivores munch on willows, birches and grasses by the pound. During the barren winter, when moose can't get their lips on these natural foods, Anchorage watches them turn to eating trash. March and April are the worst months because the winter food supply in the wild grows scarce and hungry moose lumber into the city in higher numbers.

So what's the harm in a little garbage grazing? Like humans, moose often turn grumpy when hungry, and if there isn't any food around when they come looking, they're more likely to lash out at someone.

When Moose Attack

The number of moose attacks spikes in September and October during mating season and the early spring when mothers are protecting their young calves. However, moose often do not confront people unless they are provoked. For that reason, it's important to not throw anything at moose and keep any dogs away from them. Moose especially dislike dogs because they run up and bark at them.

As mentioned earlier, feeding a moose can also make them more dangerous. When their stomach starts talking, and they instinctually return to a place where they were once given food, they may attack if the food isn't there again. To lower the chance of food-related attacks, Alaska has made moose feeding a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Since the Alaskan moose population can exceed 175,000, you may run across one accidentally at a campsite, on a trail or even in your own backyard. Imagine a 1,500-pound (680-kilogram) brown mass galloping toward you as fast as an overgrown rabbit. Antlers 6 feet (1.8 meters) from end to end splay outward like a pair of bizarre antennae. When you see a bull, or male moose, charging at you, there's only one thing to do – turn and run to avoid getting trampled. Duck and hide behind the nearest tree, building or car if you don't have time to get inside [source: Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game].

Although moose can outrun humans at their top speeds, many times, they won't chase you far if you run away from them. If you don't get away fast enough, and a moose knocks you down, don't struggle. Curl into the fetal position and cover your head with your arms. Trying to move or beat it off will only cause the moose to continue kicking and stomping you.

If you see one that isn't approaching, your best bet is to avoid it and allow it to move out of your way. However, if you notice its hairs raised, head down and ears back, that's your cue to hightail it in the opposite direction. And when a moose licks its lips that doesn't mean it finds you attractive. That's your signal to make tracks.

Moose on the Roads of Alaska

A majority of moose-related injuries in Alaska take place on the roads. Their presence on Alaskan roads and highways contributes to about 500 moose accidents each year. This is the highest in North America. However, the odds of dying in a moose-related accident are one in 200,000 or one-half of 1 percent [source: Alaska Department of Transportation].

These accidents happen in spite of many efforts to keep moose off the Alaskan roads. Higher-traffic areas on the highways, for instance, have wire fences, moose underpasses beneath roads to allow for safe crossing and one-way moose gates to help maintain moose-free roads. But drivers and passengers aren't the only ones suffering in these situations. About 120 moose die each year from car crashes in Anchorage alone, and nearly 800 in the state [source: Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game].

This situation is not unique to Alaska. Car crashes resulting from deer species, including moose, deer and elk, totaled 1.33 million in 2018, down from 1.34 million in 2017, according to State Farm statistics. The top state for deer collisions was West Virginia. In total, all animals accounted for 211 deaths in car collisions in the U.S. in 2017. The state with the most fatalities was not Alaska, but Texas, with 27 deaths [source: IIHS].

Last editorial update on Sep 18, 2019 01:45:13 pm.

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Sources

  • Alaska Department of Fish & Game. "Driving in Moose Country." (Sept. 18, 2019) https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livewith.drivingmoosecountry
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