Tough Love

By , March 25, 2012

The moose calf we assume to be an orphan has been hanging around the homestead the last couple of days. Michelle encountered her a couple of times on outhouse visits, the most recent this morning at 4:00 a.m.

Just before breakfast, she came back into the yard. I grabbed my drum off the wall and stepped outside to chase her off.

Because she’s young, and has no calf of her own, I thought I could be more aggressive about chasing her off. I thought she’d run if I came after her. As so often happens, I thought wrong.

She galloped down the path to the boathouse, and I followed. But when she got to the boathouse, she thought she was cornered, and came back down the path toward me. She raised her hackles, lowered her ears, and charged. I’d been here before . . . .

Even though she’s a calf, not quite a year old, she’s as large as a small horse, well muscled, sharp hoofed, and desperate. Luckily, she lacks the confidence of her older cousins. I stepped off the trail into the compost alcove, but continued to beat my drum and yell. She tried to stop, slid on the ice, and fell into a heap right in front of me.

I eased off a moment while she regained her feet, then we stood, practically nose-to-nose, trying to figure out what to do with each other. I began drumming softly, increasing volume until she backed off and pushed through the line of trees to the beach. That allowed me to run past her to the boathouse, where I created a racket until she shied back onto the trail. With a clear exit ahead of her, I pursued her once again, stampeding her behind the cabin and up the trail.

I went back to breakfast, where my morning cup of coffee felt a bit redundant.

I feel badly about this episode. Yesterday, I’d considered allowing the calf to browse our property. She’s on her own, but seems to be more or less shadowing the “chocolate moose” (the one who charged us last year) and her calf. That means that she’s living on the browse left by these two other moose. Her situation is precarious, and we’d like to see her thrive. There’s nothing in the garden she can bother right now. If she stays away from the cherry trees and the lilac, why not let her stay?

Because we need to think about the future. She will likely mate this autumn. Next summer, she’ll be a nervous first-time mother. If she leads her new calf to places she’s comfortable, like our front yard, our next encounter may be far less comical than today’s. Even if she doesn’t come back here, if she were to become comfortable around us, she could feel comfortable around other people, rarely a good thing for a wild animal.

Reluctantly, I have to assume that scaring her off whenever she comes near is the best thing for all of us. It’s tough love.

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