Moose on the Loose: Why Are Colorado’s Shiras Moose Showing Up in Front Range Suburbs?

A cow moose rests on a lawn in Lakewood. Photo by CPW.

A cow moose rests on a lawn in Lakewood. Photo by CPW.

In this segment of “Ask the Biologist,” Colorado Outdoors Online reader Carol Metz asks:

Question: “Why are moose showing up in residential areas along the Front Range?”

Last week, Arvada and Lakewood residents got quite the surprise when two Shiras moose sauntered into town. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers were able to tranquilize the rogue animals and safely relocate them to more remote habitat in South Park. However, local residents are curious as to why moose appear to be vamoosing the marshy wetlands of Colorado’s mountain parks and are now exploring suburbia.

CPW Biologist Shannon Schaller. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

CPW Biologist Shannon Schaller. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Biologist Shannon Schaller explains some of the reasons why moose are expanding their range, why urban sightings may become more common and also offers a few tips on how to play it safe around these large, powerful animals.

Answer:

“There are several reasons why we are seeing more moose along Colorado’s Front Range. Moose are a pioneering-type animal and adapt to a variety of habitats. With their size and forage demands, moose typically travel within a home range of 3-6 miles. However, they seasonally wander much farther searching for food and available habitat, which occasionally brings them into suburban areas.

Additionally, Colorado’s moose population is expanding statewide. In fact, our moose population is doing so well that it’s growing more rapidly than in most other states. As the moose population grows, moose will continue to move out of the core locations where they were initially introduced (North Park, Grand Mesa) and into adjacent areas that may provide suitable habitat—including towns and suburbs. Many times these wandering moose will move back out of suburban areas on their own in a matter of a few days or a week. However, wildlife officers may decide to relocate a moose if there is the potential that the animal may be harmed by vehicles, harassed by pets or if it poses a threat to human safety.

A moose in Lakewood is shot with a tranquilizer dart. Photo by CPW.

A moose in Lakewood is shot with a tranquilizer dart. Once the animal is calm, wildlife officers will prepare to relocate it to a more remote location. Photo by CPW.

This time of year, it’s also fairly common to see moose on the move. In spring and early summer, yearling moose are driven off by their mothers (cow moose). The cows have their new calves in May, and calves that were born the previous year (called yearlings) may leave the cow and her newborn calf/calves temporarily or permanently. Some yearlings may regroup with their mother several weeks after the new calves are born and can remain with her for up to two years. However, those yearlings are oftentimes the moose that show up in suburban areas as they are searching for new territory. Unlike elk and deer, moose are solitary and do not travel in herds. So, moose are generally loners with the exception of a cow that may be traveling with her calves and yearlings.

Wildlife officers Jordan Likes, Jerry McKee, Joe Padia and Melanie Kaknes prepare to relocate a moose in Arvada. A towel is placed over the animal's eyes to help keep it calm. Photo by CPW.

From left to right: Wildlife officers Jordan Likes, Jerrie McKee, Joe Padia and Melanie Kaknes prepare to relocate a moose in Arvada. A towel is placed over the animal’s eyes to help keep it calm. Photo by CPW.

Volunteer Christian Schaller helps to keep a tranquilized moose calm as wildlife officers prepare to move it from a Lakewood yard. Photo by CPW.

Volunteer Christian Schaller helps to keep a tranquilized moose calm as wildlife officers prepare to move it from a Lakewood yard. Photo by CPW.

Because Colorado’s moose population and human population are both on the rise, there will be more sightings and the potential for conflict situations. As with any wild animal, moose must be respected and given their space. From my experiences with moose over that last 13 years, most negative interactions with moose and humans were avoidable, and were the result of people and/or their dog getting too close to moose. Even though moose tend to be less fearful of humans than other wildlife, they still can feel threatened—especially by dogs. Moose can run fast, but they are not built for distance so they will choose “fight” over “flight” in most cases. They have the potential to be dangerous at any time but may become especially aggressive under these circumstances:

  • In late spring/early summer when a cow feels her young calf is in danger
  • In the fall when a breeding (rutting) bull is competitive and agitated
  • In the winter when moose are hungry and tired from walking in deep snow
  • Anytime dogs chase or even bark at them
  • Anytime people approach too closely

Moose are amazing animals. And one of the great things about living in Colorado is the abundant wildlife and the opportunity to see so many different species—sometimes right in our own backyard. But with that comes a certain responsibility to ensure we are doing everything we can to avoid conflict situations. Like all wildlife, enjoy moose from a safe distance!” See more photos of the Arvada and Lakewood moose in the slideshow below:

MayJune2015coverFor more information about Colorado’s Shiras moose, see “On the Lookout for. . .Moose!” in the May/June issue of Colorado Outdoors magazine. Annual subscriptions to Colorado Outdoors and back issues may be purchased HERE.

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