Sunday, January 4, 2009

Calf moose rescue a rare event

Josh emerges with calf
Little moose revives

Our policy with wild animals is to admire and respect them but to not interfere in their lives.

So it was an exception to the rule when our son Josh rescued a drowning calf moose right at camp a couple of years ago.

We have hesitated to mention the incident because we don't want to encourage people to "rescue" what appear to be abandoned animals. In just about every instance, the ducklings or fawns or calves that we come across are not abandoned. Their mothers have just left them while they went some other place to eat or to elude predators, etc.

But what happened in these photos really was a case where the calf would have died right before our eyes if we hadn't taken action.

It happened like this: One of our guests returning to his cabin after eating lunch in the lodge in late May saw this newborn calf swimming right in front of our boathouse. We all ran outside with our cameras but also with one eye peeled for the cow moose.

You NEVER want to get near a calf moose when a cow moose is nearby because she will almost certainly kick you to death in her instinct to protect her young.

But our first glance at the calf showed that something was very wrong. It wasn't swimming horizontally in the water but was instead flailing away with its front hooves in a vertical position. And then it sank beneath the surface only to emerge a second later and continue the process.

We looked everywhere in the yard but still didn't see a cow moose.

Just then the calf sank again and this time the only thing that came to the surface were bubbles.

"Josh, get him! He's drowning!," Brenda yelled.

Josh jumped into the frigid water and emerged in a few seconds with the hapless moose.

He then swam to shore and handed the little guy to me. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see an irate mother coming charging from the tree line but the coast was still clear.

After a few minutes the calf started to kick and wanted to go. But we were reluctant to release him back into the lake. Josh whipped off his T-shirt and we covered the moose's eyes with it and that calmed him down.

Now what do we do? we wondered.

The angler who had first spotted the moose jumped in his boat and drove up the narrows looking for the mother. He was back in a minute saying there was a cow moose several hundred yards around the bend but coming our way.

We took the exhausted calf up to the end of camp closest to the cow and laid him down in the yard with his eyes still covered.

We then turned off the generator so the two moose could hear better should they try to call to each other. The wind was blowing from the calf towards the cow. We then withdrew a good distance and watched. After about 30 minutes, the calf suddenly stood up, shook off the T-shirt and headed into the bush in the direction of the cow.

A day later someone spotted a cow with two calves in the narrows north of camp and we began to understand what probably had happened.

Cow moose like to swim out to small islands to give birth in May as it offers them some protection from black bears who are on the prowl first thing after hibernation looking for newborn moose calves.

We think that the cow had given birth to twin calves on an island right across the narrows from camp and had swam back to our side of the narrows shortly thereafter. (It's got to be a rude introduction to life for the calves. They're born one minute and swimming for their lives in ice cold water the next.)

The distance the cow swam wasn't far, maybe 50 yards. But she must have crossed right where there is a point of land. The shoreline is too steep for the moose to get out at the point so she swam to the north side where the shoreline was more gentle. One of her calves followed her but the other went to the south, toward camp. Since one of the calves was behind her she didn't realize at first that anything was wrong.

As it turns out the entire shoreline to the south is too steep, at least for a little moose, and he must have swam back and forth along the shoreline for quite awhile looking for a place to get out. Eventually he was exhausted and just couldn't swim any more and that's when Josh dove in and saved him from an early death.
A neat postscript to this story is that the cow and her twins ended up spending the entire summer on a beach not far from camp. Many of our guests saw them sunning themselves on the sand.

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