moose charges tourists across lake, sends up water spray
Common Sense in the Parks
 


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The photo you see above is a cow moose charging a group of tourists in Glacier National Park. This was not the start of the incident. This very upset cow moose had been provoked by a couple park visitors who were largely oblivious to respectful buffer zones between themselves and animals.

In early September of 2010, I was visiting the scenic shores of a well known lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. This lake is famous for its moose sightings, and that was my main reason for visiting. Upon reaching the lake, I noticed perhaps ten people filming a large bull moose which was in the water thirty yards from shore in the corner of the lake where thick, eight foot high bushes stretched south along the shore, and a sandy shoreline mixed with forest stretched to the west. The bull seemed quite relaxed, not even bothering to look at the people tucked into the trees and filming from a safe distance. It acted in a natural manner and enjoyed the aquatic vegetation it was feasting on.

Things began to change when a family of seven approached too close to the bull moose and turned their backs to it while another family member took their photo. The moose began to act nervously, frequently raising its head and staring at the clueless family who had their backs to it. It was at this point that a young man wearing camo pants and a female partner decided to move even closer to the already very close bull moose, and headed into the bushes with the only possible intention being to see the face of the bull moose more frequently. I didn't understand why thirty yards was not close enough with today's zoom cameras. The man was brandishing two high caliber firearms on his belt, and was holding a video camera. I watched them sneak into the alder and move in closer to the moose. As they did this,. they obscured themselves from the bull's view and caused the bushes to rattle and scrape in a way that most likely felt ominous to the moose. At this point, the moose began to spook, and stared intently into the moving bushes, unable to see the source of movement. The now clearly agitated bull moose looked at the family who had their back to it, then to the bushes, and then finally charged the family, pushing them off the shore and up into the woods. The family, clueless as ever finally turned around as blood curdling shrieks of "run!" came from those in the forest. The smiles of the day dreaming family faded to horrific frowns when they saw the bull moose charging behind them with its massive rack. People screamed and shouted as they were herded up into the main trail section and the moose gained on them. Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident, but it was not over. The bull moose paced in the woods, huffing and snorting. From across the lake, a cow moose sprinted, sending up white foam and spray with its ears pinned back. When it reached the shore it walked back and forth in what I could only describe as anger - or perhaps it sensed danger to a possible hidden calf.

massive bull moose gets ready to charge clueless family
The bull moose getting ready to charge the family.

Several of the people were outraged over the actions of the young couple with guns and video camera who approached the bull moose in the bushes, so we marched back to the Swift Current parking lot and told a ranger about what happened. Two other people came with me to act as witnesses to the event. We told the uniformed and radio equipped park employee about the incident and showed her a picture of the charging cow moose, and her reaction was definite surprise. She contacted another ranger and told her about the story. I caught up with this ranger at the foot bridge on the way to the lake where the incident occurred, and at this point the two people who pushed the huge bull moose into the crowd also were walking back. The ranger proceeded to talk to them about how to approach wildlife, but no ticket was given. When I asked her why no ticket was given for such a dangerous incident, she informed me that she had to be there to witness any wrong doing to issue a ticket. I digested her comment and moved along, thanking her for the tough job she had to do, but admittedly slightly puzzled at the lack of enforcement for one of the most dangerous situations I’ve ever seen in all my years at Glacier National Park, or in any national park.

angry cow moose charges across lake
The cow moose bolts across the shallow lake. I've never seen moose behavior like this.

sprinting and charging cow mosoe towards group of tourists in glacier

cow moose with ears pinned back rips across lake to charge people

I can tell you with great certainty that for the rest of my visit in Glacier, I was extremely cautious of running into the moose agitating couple in any wildlife situation. The moose charging incident could have been much worse. Looking back at it now, it seemed the bull was almost toying with the people, and if it wanted to, it could have easily smashed that clueless family into pieces, or anyone else who witnessed the event. We are all fortunate that no one sustained any injuries.

If you approach wildlife and see it change from calm to agitated and nervous, you're too close. Back away. There were many disappointed people in this incident who only got to see this magnificent bull for a few moments thanks to the two people who pushed into it.

The thing I always try to remember when visiting our great parks and forests is that these parks and animals do not owe me a photo. Instead, I owe these parks and animals respect and common courtesy in their home. If you can't get the shot, so what? Life goes on. You'll sleep better at night knowing you didn't push that bull moose into a crowd of people, or that you didn't chase away that eagle from its nest and young. I believe these positive behaviors reward us in the future, and I certainly hope that magnificent bull and cow are back at the scenic lake, enjoying the vegetation as they always have.

moose wading in shallow, spectacular lake
The lake where the incident took place.

 


 

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