Weighing up to 1,000 pounds and towering 6 feet high at the shoulder, moose are Colorado’s largest wild mammal. These massive animals are relatively unafraid of people and can pose an enormous risk to public safety. Each year, more people are attacked by moose than by any other species of wildlife, and moose are one of the most unpredictable and dangerous animals in our state.
Thanks to decades of conservation programs, Colorado is home to an estimated 2,500 moose and boasts one of the healthiest populations in the lower 48 states. With this thriving population, moose have expanded beyond the remote areas where they were originally introduced. They are now appearing in many of our busy mountain towns, rural neighborhoods, tourist destinations and ski areas.
Recently, moose have even ventured into Colorado’s Front Range suburbs as they continue to seek out new territory and habitat. While this creates exciting opportunities to view these fascinating animals, dangerous conflicts between moose and people have become increasingly common in recent years.
Fortunately, nearly all dangerous encounters can be minimized or avoided by taking some simple precautions:
1. Maintain A Safe Distance
The number one rule to avoid dangerous conflicts is to maintain a safe distance from moose. Never approach moose or attempt to take a close-up photograph or selfie. Unlike most wildlife that will typically run away if approached, moose will stand their ground and often charge if they feel threatened. Always use your zoom or binoculars to observe moose more closely.
Usually, as long as you stay out of a moose’s “personal space,” they will not act aggressively. However, every moose has a different level of tolerance for humans. So along with keeping a safe distance, it is also important to pay attention to the animal’s behavior. If the moose reacts to your presence, changes its behavior, or shows any signs of aggression, you are too close and need to back away immediately.
Moose that lick their snout, pin their ears back or raise the hackles along their spine or shoulder hump are showing signs that you have invaded their space and are about to attack. Unfortunately, by the time you see these warning signs, it is often too late! Despite their lumbering appearance, moose can charge quickly and can run up to 35 miles per hour. You cannot outrun a moose, which is why maintaining distance is so critical. If a moose decides to charge, quickly get behind something large like a tree, a car, or a big rock to separate yourself from the animal.
2. Keep Your Dogs on a Short Leash
Some of the most dangerous conflicts between people and moose are triggered by dogs. Throughout much of the native range for moose, wolves are their primary predators. This means that moose will react to dogs as they would to wolves, and they will go out of their way to charge or stomp a dog that barks at them or chases them. Dogs charged by moose often run back to their owners, which puts humans in danger of being trampled. If you live or recreate in areas where moose are present, make sure to keep your dogs on a short leash, in a fenced yard or in an enclosed kennel. This will help keep both you and your dog safe.
3. Yield to Moose
If you’re hiking, biking, skiing or snowmobiling, it’s always important to watch for moose on trails and backcountry roads. Moose will seldom yield to you, and trying to chase them or push them off a trail may provoke an attack. If you see a moose on a trail or road, always give them the right of way. Allow them plenty of space, and let them pass or move off the trail in their own time.
Moose also tend to be more aggressive and territorial in the fall during mating season, and in the spring and summer when calves are present. It’s important to be especially cautious and mindful of your surroundings when recreating during those times of the year.
4. Please Do NOT Feed Wild Animals
“Every year, I catch people who put out salt blocks, vegetables and other food items for moose,” says Elissa Slezak, a District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Not only is it illegal to feed wildlife in Colorado, it’s dangerous too. Moose are known to take food and then attack afterward.
Feeding moose and other big-game animals changes their natural feeding behavior and increases transmission of disease. Feeding also lures moose into residential areas, which can increase the likelihood of dangerous encounters. Moose that frequent human food sources become habituated, and may need to be euthanized to protect public safety. Feeding wildlife always turns out badly for both people and animals.
Moose should not be irrationally feared!
Like all wildlife, moose should not be irrationally feared. But they must be respected as large, powerful animals that are capable of causing severe injury to people and pets. Moose that injure a human will be euthanized to protect human safety, even if the attack was provoked by an irresponsible person.
One of the great things about living and recreating in Colorado is our abundant populations of moose and other wildlife. But with that privilege comes a responsibility to ensure that you are doing everything possible to avoid dangerous encounters.
For more information about moose and other wildlife, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife thanks you for your cooperation.
Blog post and video by Jerry Neal. Neal is the senior videographer and a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.