Don’t Bother The AnimalsBy: Craig Owensby
I thought there was a very real chance that this fool standing next to me was going to get one or both of us killed, or at least seriously injured, and probably our families too.
This was in Alaska, in a city park in Anchorage, and I had just pulled off the park road so my wife and small son and I could watch a big bull moose taking it easy back in the tree line. He was quite a sight; you hear how massive and powerful they are in person, and how a picture or video doesn’t do them justice, and it’s true, there is nothing like just being near one.
The elk at Hatfield Knob outside Knoxville were and still are the only animals I’d ever seen in the wild that were anywhere near the size of a moose, and there you’re up on an observation deck and maybe in a little safer position in case the elk get excited. With the moose, though, we were at ground level and maybe twenty yards away, close to the car and ready to jump in if we needed to.
I’m no expert on moose behavior, but this guy seemed to be pretty laid back, lying down, chewing, and occasionally raising his head to look around. No stress, no problem, no apparent sign of any danger.
We’d been standing there watching him for, I don’t know, fifteen or twenty minutes when a minivan pulled up and another family piled out, yelling “Look! There’s a moose!” and jabbering about how big and strong he was. We nodded at each other and kept on enjoying nature; the other family didn’t quiet down any, and before long I saw a good-sized pebble bounce off the moose’s ribs.
Our new visitors had apparently decided to have some personal interaction with him. I looked around just in time to see the other dad pick up another rock and sling it at the moose. Direct hit, two for two, didn’t seem to bother him but with moose you can never be completely sure and I didn’t want to take any chances. So, in the interest of harmony with nature and not getting the moose riled up, I blocked the next throw with one hand and asked pebble guy exactly what he was trying to accomplish.
“He ain’t doin’ nothin!” he said, as he reached for something else to chuck at the moose. “He’s just layin’ there!” That, of course, being exactly what moose do in those situations, at least until they get tired of flying objects. I explained, just in case he didn’t know any better, that the moose was entirely capable of stomping all of us flat if he took a mind to, or if we just got in his path when he decided to move. That didn’t seem to register, and I realized that we were seeing something that seems to be all too common – people unfamiliar with the outdoors who think wild creatures are there, and should perform, for their entertainment.
I’ve watched packs of park visitors jump out of their cars and chase bear cubs through Cades Cove, and stood well back from a man bothering a rattlesnake with a stick in Cheatham County; we’ve all heard about tourists trying to pet, feed, or even ride wild bison out at Yellowstone, and if you’ve spent much time outside in Tennessee or anywhere else you’ve probably run across someone who treats the outdoors like their own personal movie. And that seemed to be the situation there with the moose – throw something at him, wait for him to react, impress your kids, and you can brag when you get home about how you made that moose get up and dance for you.
I’m not sure we ever did get through to the other dad. He hung around for a few minutes more, glared at us enough to satisfy his ego, and finally packed up his family and left without causing any more disturbance, but I wouldn’t guarantee he didn’t try it again the next time he saw a big animal along the road. We stayed another few minutes, watching the moose just being a moose and not disturbing him at all, and after awhile we went our separate ways.
Which is, the way I see it, the way to enjoy the outdoors and its wildlife. Let them be, keep a reasonable distance, and definitely don’t throw any rocks – not least because a Tennessee elk, or even a bear, might not be as relaxed about it as an Alaska moose.