Native American Algonquins called them moose, meaning “eater of twigs”. It’s hard to believe that the largest wild animal in North America could grow to an average of 1,000 pounds and stand taller than most humans — 6 feet at the shoulder — on a diet of leaves, twigs, aquatic plants, and tree buds. Eating 40–60 pounds a day does, however, sustain them, and they accomplish this volume without upper incisors; they strip off bark rather than cutting it. They also don’t see distant objects well, but compensate with keen hearing and a good sense of smell.
Male moose, known as bulls, are larger than the female cows, and are further distinguished by dark brown or black muzzles and large antlers that can weigh up to 60 pounds. Antlers begin to grow in the early spring and have matured by late summer or early fall. During the winter, mature bulls lose their antlers completely, while young bulls may keep their smaller spikes into early spring. Cows, who do not have antlers, have a light brown face and a patch of white fur beneath their tail. The distinctive flap of skin and long hair that hangs from a moose’s throat is called the bell, and is typically less noticeable in cows.
Bulls and cows stay on the move during mating season, or rut, which begins in mid-September and lasts about a month. Their home range varies from 5 to more than 50 square miles, the latter during rut. Bulls don’t breed until they’re five years old, while cows begin at a year and a half and usually have one calf by age two. Once a cow reaches four years old, it’s common for her to have twins. Twenty to twenty-five pound calves are born in late May or early June, and by Thanksgiving they’re up to 20 times heavier. Cows are extremely protective of their calves and have been known to kill wolves and black bear while defending their young. Moose can live more than twenty years, although many die earlier due to predation, disease, human hunters, and automobile accidents.
POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS
The most common concern people have about moose is motor vehicle collisions with moose. Given the moose’s enormous size and the automobile’s high speed, collisions between the two are indeed dangerous and can result in both human and animal injuries and deaths. Many solutions have already been proven effective at preventing collisions, and new technologies are being developed. Below are suggestions for staying safe.
Stay Safe While Driving: Tips to Reduce Collisions with Moose
- Take moose-crossing signs seriously. They’re erected in high accident and frequent crossing areas.
- Don’t speed. Excessive speed inhibits the ability to avoid a collision and increases the risk of serious injury or death.
- Be extra cautious in the autumn. Hunters frighten moose and keep them on the move, and mating season for moose, which makes them travel more, is September and October.
- Dim your dashboard lights at night. This increases your visibility on darkened roads.
- Scan roadside edges for moose as you drive, especially at dawn and dusk and from May to October, when moose are more active. Remember to look up for eye shine — moose are tall.
Protect Your Roads: Encourage your Community to take Preventative Measure
- Post moose-crossing signs in high accident and frequent crossing areas.
- Air public service announcements during times when moose are on the move.
- Reduce speed limits.
- Erect high fences or extend existing fences bordering major highways.
- Increase fines for littering and enforce existing laws. Litter attracts animals to roadsides.
- If road salt is attracting moose and other animals to roadsides, clean it up and/or place salt licks further away from the road for the moose.
- Mandate that all driver education courses include information on collisions with animals and safe driving methods for prevention.
- Keep current with developing technologies and implement them when available — wildlife bypasses, laser devices, mirrors, collision avoidance sensors, and new headlight technology are a few currently being tested.
Hunting Will Not Prevent Collisions
There is an effort underway to begin a moose hunt in Massachusetts. Moose hunting is currently illegal in Massachusetts. Proponents of a moose hunt claim it’s necessary for stabilizing the population and preventing car-moose collisions. The state of Maine, however, which celebrates its large moose population, has two hunting seasons for moose, yet the population continues to grow. Due to the fact that between 1995 and 2000 there were 3,983 crashes involving moose, resulting in 15 human deaths and 805 human injuries, public officials in Maine take this issue very seriously, and have studied a myriad of ways to reduce the incidence of moose hit by cars. What they have found is that “educating drivers through awareness programs was identified as a factor that could most effectively bring a reduction in animal/vehicle crashes” (Maine Working Group Interim Report, p.11). They do not rely on hunting in Maine, but rather have seen a decline in accidents as they have implemented educational and technological solutions.