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City Wildlife in Anchorage a Blend of Beauty, Danger

Beastly: Biologists patrol fine line as moose calve in back yards and bears raid neighborhood trash cans

Anne Aurand / Anchorage Daily News / June 9, 2005

John Cooper and his family grew attached to the moose cow and new calf that had been munching in their back yard for almost a week. So when the calf wedged its hind end between planks of a picket fence Tuesday, and struggled desperately to get free, Cooper removed a slat and lifted out the little animal, all while the mother moose watched.

"I had hoped for the best," said Cooper.

But the calf had been pinched too tightly for too long. It was not going to recover, and had to be shot, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Rick Sinnott.

Every spring, hundreds of cow moose give birth in Anchorage Bowl back yards and greenbelts, said Sinnott. Bears emerge from hibernation and hit the neighborhoods in search of food. And Sinnott spends his days refereeing the melee between humans and wildlife, all living together in this Alaska city.

In fact, when the Cooper family was calling Sinnott about the stuck calf on Tuesday, the biologist was chasing a trouble-making black bear in Muldoon.

One day after shooting the calf, he returned to the neighborhood between the Old and New Seward highways and between Huffman and DeArmoun roads to retrieve the carcass and take it to "my secret calf disposal site," Sinnott said.

Otherwise, there was a risk that the mother moose would defend the baby and act aggressively, he said. The moose had generally been calm, Cooper and Sinnott said, except for when it had to defend the calf from some loose dogs a few days ago.

"She doesn't tolerate dogs," Sinnott said.

Moose often return to seemingly safe urban places to give birth and tend to their vulnerable young, Sinnott said. Cooper said his yard -- mostly protected by fences -- was one of those places. He and his wife and two children found it fascinating, he said.

"It's fascinating but it's also dangerous," Sinnott said. "They can wreak havoc trying to defend a calf."
Bears are a different issue. They're lured by garbage cans, grow accustomed to eating trash, and become brazen, he said. Though not necessarily dangerous, they can pose a risk if they lose fear of humans and aggressively seek food.

Sinnott darted a male yearling black bear at its Centennial Park hangout on Tuesday, and had it shipped to the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for research. That bear will be killed when the hibernation study is over, he said.

It was the cub of a notorious garbage-eater who has taught one too many offspring to seek out trash, Sinnott said. The mother has a reputation for garbage pilfering at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Sinnott said.
"If I catch up to the mom again, she's history," Sinnott said. "She's got a rap sheet a mile long from Elmendorf and I'm not going to tolerate it."

Mary McKean, principal of Bartlett High School, which is near both Centennial Park and Elmendorf Air Force Base, said she's heard reports of a bear on the trails around campus. On Wednesday, she announced to students that one was in the area. When there are reports of bears, she said, P.E. classes don't use the trails.

Daily News reporter Anne Aurand can be reached at aaurand@adn.com or 257-4591.

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