An injured baby moose put to death Sunday by the Alaska Zoo has rekindled charged relations between state wildlife managers and a moose conservation group.
The Alaska Moose Federation broke the law last week by handling the calf and transporting it to a veterinarian and the zoo, said Matt Robus, the state's wildlife conservation director.
People need an Alaska Department of Fish and Game permit to handle wild animals unless hunting and fishing during approved seasons, said Robus.
Many people don't understand that "rescuing" an animal can endanger it, he said.
He wants wildlife troopers to consider citing members of the group for a game handling violation.
But a key wildlife trooper said the state might not investigate.
"I'm not sure we want to get in the middle of this," said Maj. Steve Bear, deputy director of wildlife enforcement.
The incident last week centers on Tom Harris, an advisory board member of the moose federation, an Anchorage group that advocates for boosting moose populations statewide.
Harris picked up the calf outside a house on Upper O'Malley Road last Thursday after concerned citizens called about it, he said. Helping Alaska moose recover is worth a trip to court, he said.
"I'd love for them to press charges and make this a national event," said Harris, chief executive of Tyonek's Native corporation.
When asked if he knew he needed a permit, he replied,
"If (Matt Robus) wants to throw me in court, that's fine. I can use up his retirement in a heartbeat."
Handling and transporting wild animals without a Fish and Game permit is a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $10,000 and one year in jail.
The federation has locked horns with Fish and Game in the past over the federation's proposals to ship moose from urban areas to rural areas where moose populations are low. The department, which must approve the federation's plans, has rejected those proposals because they fall short of state and federal requirements regarding the care of wild animals, Robus said.
The federation last week submitted a new proposal Fish and Game is reviewing, Robus said. It's designed to relocate Southcentral calves orphaned by such things as car accidents to an area north of Skwentna.
Alaska's moose population has held steady for the past 15 years at about 140,000, but has dropped dramatically in some areas, Robus said. Last fall there were about 1,800 in the Municipality of Anchorage -- from the Knik River to Portage.
Harris believes rebuilding moose numbers statewide is critical to Alaska's future. More moose could help Alaskans in poor areas put food on their tables and boost tourism by giving hunters and photographers extra moose to shoot, he said.
Harris was asked if his picking up of the calf last week was an act of civil disobedience to get attention for his cause. He said no, but added, "If I have to be Don Quixote or a wild man waving his arms in the middle of the road, so be it. I'm not the only one."
2 WEEKS OLD
The 1,100-member federation had hoped the moose calf it picked up last Thursday would be the first one shipped to the Bush under the new proposal, said chairman Gary Olson, who helped Harris transport the calf.
The calf had been abandoned for three days after a bear attacked the mother, Olson said. The calf was perhaps 2 weeks old, dehydrated without mother's milk and couldn't stand, he said. The bear's teeth had nipped the calf's back.
The moose spent the night at a veterinarian office to receive intravenous feeding, suturing and antibiotics. The vet, Del Seeba with Diamond Animal Hospital, reported that the moose gained four pounds and was bright, alert and responsive, Olson said.
However, Eileen Floyd with the Alaska Zoo said the animal was in poor health when it arrived last Friday. It couldn't stand, had trouble feeding and didn't improve. On Sunday, the curator decided to euthanize it, Floyd said.
The veterinarian, a member of the federation's advisory board, couldn't be reached this week.
OUT OF THE WILD
People shouldn't pick up baby animals, Robus said. Mothers might intend to return to animals that really aren't orphaned. Also, calves cared for by humans and released might have little chance of surviving because they haven't learned to live in the wild. They might be easy picking for such predators as wolves, he said.
"You can't just grab an animal out of the wild," he said. "No matter how good-hearted your intent is, it's the job of Fish and Game."
Wildlife officers don't want the public handling wild animals, Bear said. But troopers decide, case by case, whether to cite someone who's improperly handled wildlife, he said.
"If someone blatantly chooses to ignore the law, that's one thing, but someone acting on good faith to help an animal, that's a little different," he said.
The Harris case hasn't "piqued my interest," he said.
Fish and Game tries to avoid taking in animals, Robus said. If sick or injured, they're put down. Healthy animals might be placed in zoos or other accredited facilities, he said. Around Anchorage, the department has been pretty successful reuniting separated moose calves and mothers.
"It's best to leave animals in the wild and let nature take its course," he said.
Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big Wild do's, don'ts
It's illegal to:
* Feed wild animals.
* Repeatedly approach them in a way that alters their behavior. That's considered harassment.
* Handle wild animals.
* Call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 267-2257 if you think a wild animal has been separated from its mother.
Source: Ron Clarke, wildlife conservation division