A moose-based ruckus at Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park on May 15 led to a three-day closure of the southern trail network.
Alberta Environment and Parks received multiple calls about an "aggressive moose" on the south end of the park on the morning of the 15th, according to conservation officer Sgt. Chad Stevens.
When conservation officers and Fish and Wildlife officers arrived on the scene they "came upon a group that had just encountered the moose, and Fish and Wildlife officers worked to evacuate that group from the area," Stevens said.
After evacuating the group and closing the trail to the public, Fish and Wildlife officers hiked the park, searching for the moose.
Officers determined the moose was acting defensively to protect her calf, however, when officers located the calf, it was dead.
Stevens said the cause of death is believed to be a stillbirth.
“All wildlife, any mother, is going to protect its young," Stevens said. "It could be a deer, it could be a coyote, could be a bear, could be a moose; when they’re with their young ones they can be quite protective and that was the case here.”
Stevens said officers remained in the park on May 16 and 17 to ensure the trail remained closed and nobody ventured past the sign and closure ribbon. In the afternoon on May 17, Fish and Wildlife officers went into the area to see if the moose had moved on, and were able to remove the dead calf from the area.
The trail was reopened on May 18. "We hiked that area quite extensively and we also believe that the moose has moved on,” Stevens said.
"I’ve been here 14 years [and] this is the first time in that park we’ve had an encounter to this degree."
No injuries were reported to conservation officers, but Stevens said a dog belonging to the group that was evacuated from the park on May 15 did have an encounter with the moose.
"From what I understand, the dog is doing fine,” said Stevens.
Stressful time, place for moose
Retired wildlife biologist Hugh Wollis said spring is always calving season for moose, "they breed in the fall, about late October, [and] the calves stay with their mother for about a year until the next crop of calves come.
"If it had just given birth that day and somebody’s dog showed up and some people showed up, it would be very aggressive,” he said, adding that "when the moose had the baby [and] it was stillborn, she was [probably] still poking around looking at it."
When asked if moose might be more susceptible to stillbirths compared to other animals, Wollis said, "I suspect there’s no data on that, but I also suspect there’s nothing special."
Wollis said that while there are many possibilities at play, a simple explanation of what could have caused the stillbirth was the moose's proximity to an urban area. "People let their dogs run at moose out there and [if] the moose gets defensive or flees or something in a critical time of birth that might [be a cause],” he said.
"Every animal will react slightly differently to the same stimuli and the same events," he said. "What happens with one animal could be totally different than what happens to another one.
“What is [happening] is continuous [and] relentless pressure on the park and the edges of the park by development and recreation,” said Wollis.
Stevens wants park users to remember that provincial parks are not off-leash areas for dogs.
"When you have an off-leash dog … and they like to run up and play with other animals, that won’t necessarily go well if there is a protective mother at the other end over there.
"At this time of the year there are certain animals that are having young ones, and it’s more important now than ever to make sure park users using that area keep their dogs on leash," Stevens said.
“It’s for the safety of people’s pets [and] it’s for the safety of wildlife that dogs remain on leash.”