Since early June, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have investigated two separate moose conflicts resulting in injuries to three people, and agency officials are cautioning everyone to be extra vigilant this time of year.
Because elk, deer and other wild animals are currently rearing their newborn offspring, it increases the possibility of a serious wildlife encounter. Though most wildlife will protect their young, one of the most significant concerns for human safety is the aggressive response of a large, powerful mother moose in defense of her calves.
"People need to know when any wild animal injures a person, regardless of whether it is the human's fault or not, the animal will have to be put down if we can identify it," said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. "It is by far the worst part of any officer's job, but they must and will act to protect the public. It is why we strongly encourage everyone being responsible around wildlife and giving them plenty of space, especially when they have newborn offspring."
On June 10 near Fraser, a woman allowed her dog to run loose near willows - typical moose habitat - when a moose suddenly charged her and her dog. The woman dropped to the ground, receiving a painful leg injury when the animal stepped on her before it quickly ran off. The woman told wildlife officers she was fully aware of the potential for a clash between a dog and moose; however, because she did not expect to see a moose on private property, she allowed her dog to run off-leash.
Doctors treated the woman at a nearby emergency room and released her the same evening. She expressed remorse that the encounter could have led to the death of the moose. After searching the area, wildlife officers were unable to locate the animal.
"When in moose habitat, expect to see a moose, whether in the backcountry or within developed areas," said District Wildlife Manager Jeromy Huntington of Granby. "Try to stay in open areas where wildlife can been detected from a distance, especially when walking with a dog. Whether the moose has young or not, the presence of a dog is more than enough to incite an aggressive charge."
Huntington adds the woman was lucky the moose was not more determined to stomp on her or she could have been severely injured if the moose had stepped on her torso or head.
In Jamestown, a woman gardening in her backyard on June 2 reported that a moose with two calves unexpectedly appeared and began stomping on her. Her dog had been roaming freely in the yard at the time. Another resident of the home came to help and she was injured in the conflict as well. Both sought medical attention but neither woman suffered serious injuries.
"The woman and dog were in their own backyard, minding their own business and not doing anything wrong when this occurred," said Boulder County Area Wildlife Manager Larry Rogstad. "But even if you are not in the wilderness, sometimes the wildlife comes to you. We recommend everyone in Colorado be aware of the potential of encountering wildlife anywhere and anytime. Get the facts like those on the CPW website and be prepared to respond appropriately."
Rogstad says the cow and calves in the incident were not located.
According to wildlife officials, moose react to all dogs as they would to a wolf - one of their primary predators - by attempting to crush it with their hooves. Because of this instinctive, aggressive response, CPW officials recommend keeping dogs on a leash and under control when recreating in the backcountry, or consider leaving the dog at home.
"In most cases the dog flees back to the owner bringing an angry moose with it, as was the case in the recent incident in Fraser," said Area Wildlife Manager Lyle Sidener of Hot Sulphur Springs. "The dog continues on to safety but the owner is unable to escape."
Since 2013, CPW is aware of at least 15 moose conflicts resulting in minor to serious human injuries, including the latest two incidents. In all but two occurrences, dogs elicited the initial response from the moose.
"There is a way to watch wildlife responsibly and we encourage everyone to take the time to enjoy this wonderful, natural resource," said Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Trina Romero. "But it is critical for people to learn the rules, and follow them. The main points to remember are don't feed, don't approach, don't harass and keep dogs on leashes and under control. If the animal responds in any way to your presence, you are too close."
CPW stresses the importance of education to prevent conflicts. For information about what to do if you encounter a wild animal, visit the CPW website.