Being a wildlife biologist isn’t always what the public perceives it to be. Some days though, there are opportunities to do things like rescue a moose calf that make it all worthwhile.
Storm clouds were threatening the valley when I received a call about a moose calf caught in a fence east of town. I have seen a number of animals caught in fences and knew that without help, this moose would die. I looked at the sky and fretted that I would be lucky to make it down there before rain made the dirt roads impassable.
I hurried to my truck and with nothing more than a set of fencing pliers, headed up Sunnyside Road. Raindrops were splattering on my windshield when I turned down the Dan Creek Road. I kept the pedal down as far as I dared and mentally recalled the directions the rancher had given.
I finally found the calf sprawled out and unmoving, one front foot hopelessly twisted between the two top wires of the barbed wire fence. I could see where the still calf had struggled to get free, clearing an arc of ground beneath it. I groaned inwardly, thinking the calf was dead.
To complicate matters, momma moose was 30 yards away and staring intently at her baby and grinding her teeth at me. For a little security,I parked the truck between the calf and mom and got out with my pliers.
I was reluctant to risk my life for a dead calf so I moved slowly, keeping a careful eye on momma. As I drew near the calf, he moved his free leg in a slow arc. Death thro, I wondered? Stress and suffocation are common killers in fence entanglements and I worried that even if he was alive this rescue mission might be too late.
Momma moose and I were both anxious about what would happen next. If she charged, I was ready to bolt for the truck. I warily closed in on baby and with a quick snip cut a wire and unraveled the foot. I gently lay the injured foot down but the calf didn’t move.
With one eye still on mom, I tried to help the calf up. After a tense minute or so, the calf apparently realized it was free from the deathtrap and struggled to its feet.
Mom cleared the fence in a bound and called softly. Within seconds, the calf had joined her and they moved through the sagebrush toward a stand of aspens. The calf trotted without a limp and as I watched them disappear, I hoped that he would be none-the-worse for his ordeal.
My occupation as a wildlife biologist is one that many people think is ideal. In many ways it is. But there are frustrations too, and sometimes I leave work wondering if I accomplished anything at all. Too often, months or even years of work are unraveled by a single political decision, changing priorities or failed funding.
But on this day long ago, as rain chased me home, I reveled in my job. It was only one moose, and losing him would not have impacted the population. It meant the world to him and his mom though and on that day that was satisfaction enough.