More Moosery 08/03/07

Living as we do deep in the Canadian wilderness, we thought that – at least when it came to local wildlife – we had seen it all.
We found a deer in our garage one morning, a black bear staring at us from just outside the kitchen window and had a grizzly mum with three cubs traipse along the river at the bottom of our garden.
From the bird kingdom we’ve had blue jays, humming birds, ospreys and eagles. Once a whole extended family of Canada geese took over the yard for a week leaving industrial quantities of bird turd behind.
But, as it turned out, we had to move to the city to get our first real-life wild-animal run-in.
Ever since we arrived in Anchorage a month or so ago we’ve been amazed by the brazen cheek of the local moose population.
These pea-brained animals, each weighing several hundred kilos (the Alaskan Moose is the biggest in the world), seem to run rampage through the largest city of The Last Frontier.
Many mornings as I walk to work, braving sub-zero temperatures, howling winds and all togged up in my Russian military sheepskin and Siberian fur hat, I come head to head with one particularly stubborn individual.
The path I and he like to walk is clear and the snow surrounding it high and neither of us want to vacate the centre line. So far we have passed each other without incident.
I’ve been asking around, however, and it seems I have been a trifle blasé in my dealings with this ill-tempered ungulate.
A lady at the university recounted how she had watched helplessly as another woman was charged by a moose, barely escaping with her life when she dived into the car of a passing motorist.
Another man at the university was not so lucky – he was stamped to death on his way between classrooms.
On an average day the campus police seem to spend much of their time chasing up moose alerts from terrified and newly-arrived students from The Outside, as it is known in Alaska.
When we take the dogs out to blow off some steam in the frigid Alaska winter we often have to detour around stubborn and bolshy looking animals who block the path.
But nothing quite prepared us for the arrival of one strapping young moose in our postage-stamp sized back garden last week.
It all happened when I was away at university and Kristin was working on finishing her book. We had watched nonchalantly for a couple of days as the fine fellow de-twigged the next-door neighour’s trees.
He took each ice-encrusted branch into his huge, furry mouth and chewed and stripped with relish.
Then one day the moose simply stepped over the fence. Masha, the smaller of our two German Shepherds, was having none of it. The hair on her neck stood up and she began to bark ferociously and advance on the enormous beast. It was like a mouse challenging a lion.
Kristin ran to the gate to try and rescue the brainless hound but by now the Moose had got the hump and was chasing both dogs around the garden.
One clip from his formidable front hooves and it could all have been curtains for our brave and faithful canines.
Eventually the Moose got fed up. Unhurriedly, almost elegantly, he stepped over the four-foot-high fence to the next house along leaving our terrified hounds shocked and shivering.
We’ve learnt our lesson.
This huge northern animal may look like a sleepy, peaceable giant but when its blood is up it turns into the rhinoceros of the tundra.
On the scale of such things, it seems, a grizzly at the end of the yard is small fry. The danger won’t pass we’re told until the snow has gone. But by then, I hope, we’ll be safely back in our Canadian wilderness.