Why are moose more dangerous than bears in Alaska?

Although moose aren't naturally aggressive, you wouldn't want to get this close to one in the wild. See more arctic animal pictures.
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In Anchorage, Alaska, residents' trash has increasingly become moose's treasure. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently reported that the moose activity of nosing through abandoned cuisine has steadily escalated in the past 15 years. 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.

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].

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 the trash-seeking moose population balloon to around 1,000.

So when does Bullwinkle start to bully? Read the next page to learn what provokes a moose to go on the offense and how you should react.

When Moose Attack

Mother moose are highly protective of their calves.
Mother moose are highly protective of their calves.
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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 crime carrying a $110 fine.

Since the Alaskan moose population can exceed 120,000, 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 six 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.

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

Moose presence on the roads results in car crashes and even fatalities.
Moose presence on the roads results in car crashes and even fatalities.
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Although you may come face to face with a moose in Alaska, keep in mind that a majority of moose-related injuries take place on the roads. Their presence on Alaskan roads and highways contributes to about 10 major injuries and one or two roadway fatalities each year [source: Alaska Department of Transportation]. From 1996 to 2006, 17 people died from moose-related car crashes [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 130 moose die each year from car crashes in Anchorage alone [source: CBS News].

This situation is not unique to Alaska. Car crashes resulting from deer species, including moose, account for about 1.5 million accidents every year across the United States [source: CNN]. Driver awareness, following traffic laws and using high-beam headlights at night can likely reduce your chances of a moose crash.

If you're interested in finding out more about moose and Alaska, scan the links on the next page.

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  • Alaska Department of Fish & Game. "Moose Increasingly Attracted to Urban Garbage." March 25, 2008. (April 7, 2008)http://wildlife.alaska.gov/pubs/news/2008/03-25-2008.pdf
  • Alaska Department of Fish & Game. "What to Do About Aggressive Moose." (April 7, 2008)http://www.wc.adfg.state.ak.us/index.cfm?adfg=aawildlife.agmoose
  • Alaska Department of Natural Resources. "Bears and You." Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Updated March 24, 2008. (April 7, 2008)http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/safety/bears.htm
  • Alaska Department of Natural Resources. "Common Sense Survival." Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Updated March 24, 2008. (April 7, 2008)http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/safety/comsense.htm
  • CBS News. "Alaska's Urban Moose Adjust to Heavy Snow." Jan. 31, 2007. (April 7, 2008)http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/01/31/tech/main2417996.shtml
  • CNN. "Worst states for auto-deer crashes." Nov. 14, 2006. (April 7, 2008)http://www.cnn.com/2006/AUTOS/11/14/deer_crash/index.html
  • DuFresne, Jim and Spitzer, Aaron. "Lonely Planet Alaska." Lonely Planet. 2006. (April 7, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=b-JDesZWm5gC
  • National Parks Service. "Bear, Moose & Wolf Warnings." (April 7, 2008)http://www.nps.gov/dena/upload/Bear,%20Moose,%20Wolf%20Warnings.pdf
  • Smith, Dave. "Don't Get Eaten: The Dangers of Animals that Charge or Attack." 2003. The Mountaineering Books. (April 4, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=kpBOpT1oszIC&pg=PA71&dq=alaska+moose+attacks&sig=FSP3CbS8p1j1hdy1OeLXLXlSt_k#PPA71,M1
  • Stadem, Catherine. "Moose in Our Midst." Alaska. 1994. (April 4, 2008)