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Southeast sees a record number of urban moose encounters

"This is probably a record. I've been stationed in Weyburn now for 20 years, and I don't remember the time where we've had to deal with as many situations of moose occurrences as we've had this year," conservation officer Lindsey Leko.
Moose estevan
A number of moose sightings were reported in the southeast lately. This animal was spotted in Hitchcock.

ESTEVAN - Reports of "moose on the loose" were flooding Estevan's social media last week and earlier this winter. 

While there were no major incidents or problems caused by the wildlife's presence within the city limits, on March 11 conservation officers, alongside the Estevan Police Service and Estevan firefighters, had to tranquillize and relocate a giant, which made its way to the 1600-block of Third Street.

Firefighters brought out a trailer and once the moose was tranquillized, they loaded up the animal and took it into the Souris River area.

"Once the moose had regained its legs, it was off to hopefully make some new friends up and out in the wild and outside the city limits," said Estevan Fire Chief Dale Feser.

He explained that if there is a moose sighting within the city, the conservation officers will monitor what the animals are doing first. If they do start to become a nuisance, the animals will be relocated to outside the city limits.

"In this case, we're in a high traffic area. So I think that was one of the major deciding factors as we were trying to avoid any animal collisions with motor vehicles," Feser explained.

Another moose was reported on March 13 at night on the north end of the city, near a walking path. Police located the animal, and it was moved north, out of Estevan. There were other sightings discussed on social media and/or reported to the conservation officer, however, most of them didn't require further action.

The Mercury talked to conservation officer Lindsey Leko about the situation in the Estevan area and the southeast.

"I don't think Estevan is different than Weyburn or Stoughton or Lampman. A lot of smaller communities and farmyards are seeing moose coming in. And I think that has a lot to do with cover," Leko said. "Over the past winter, we've had quite a bit of blowing snow, we've had some nasty blizzards and stuff like that. And much like us, moose don't like it either. So they're going to try and get to an area that's got as much cover as it possibly can.

“And a lot of times a town or a city or a yard will meet those needs, and if they can, they'll have something to eat at the same time. We can't blame them for wanting to do that. But unfortunately, they don't always co-operate with us. And they're not often the best fit for an area that has lots of human activity."

Leko said in his times in the southeast, he doesn't remember having so many moose-related calls from the urban areas as they had this year.

"This is probably a record. I've been stationed in Weyburn now for 20 years, and I don't remember the time where we've had to deal with as many situations of moose occurrences as we've had this year," Leko said. "It's a tough winter. This is probably one of the more difficult winters we've had in the form of blowing snow and hard pack snow and blizzards and stuff like that, that have really had an effect on our moose population. It's a weird year, we don't normally see that. But this year, we are just having to deal with it accordingly."

While there were reports of moose sightings, people's reaction differs from time to time, and sometimes conservation officers learn about moose encounters through social media rather than through a direct call. In one of the recent cases, they responded to the information posted on social media, but couldn't find an animal at the described location.

Leko said tranquillization is not always a way to go and the decision on what to do depends on each situation. 

"A lot of times it's going to depend on the complainant or the people whose yard it is in. We've got a few situations that are ongoing here right now where either the village or the people in the yard have no issues with the moose being there, they like having them around. They don't feel threatened by it. And they've just called us to advise us of the fact and we let those ones be," Leko said.

Other times conservation officers will try to haze an animal out, sometimes using loud pyrotechnics or rubber slugs in an attempt to make it walk away on its own rather than tranquillizing and transporting it, as that is more complicated for both people and the animal.

"Tranquilizing it isn't always a viable option. There are lots of complications with moose when we tranquillize them. First of all, the dosages got to be pretty exact, depending on the size of the moose. And once they've been tranquillized, they may take off and run, and end up in an area that makes them very difficult to retrieve or move, especially with steep snow in the yards," Leko said. "And then the other thing too is they may go into some medical conditions … that may end up making them die as a result of the drugs… Then lastly, a bad thing about tranquillizing is that we have to put an ear tag in it, and the meat can't be harvested, because it had the drug circle through it."

However, in the March 11 case, all the circumstances suggested that tranquillizing was the best option to safely remove the animal from the community.

Leko added that local farmers often deal with wildlife on their own just by starting a tractor or in other way creating a situation, in which an animal doesn't feel comfortable in the yard and leaves.

He pointed out that moving an animal doesn't mean that it won't come back or appear in another yard, as it still will be looking for shelter. But hopefully with winter being almost over, these encounters should slow down.

"Now with the weather warming up, I think we're going to see the moose start to move around a little bit more, they're not going to be afraid of the deep snow and that crust that's formed on the surface that makes it hard to walk on and they have to keep punching through. I think we're going to see some moose maybe start to get back to their traditional areas and out of the urban areas," Leko said.

If someone encounters a moose and needs help with removing the animal, they should call the Saskatchewan Association of Conservation Officers at 1-800-667-7561, and they will immediately dispatch the closest officers on duty.

People should also avoid getting close to moose.

"We've got to remember that these things are wild animals, they're unpredictable, they're large, and they can run very fast and cover a long distance in a very short period of time," Leko said. "It might not recognize what you are right away, but as soon as it does it might consider you a threat. And by the time those ears snap back to let you know that it's coming, it's going to be too late. A 1,000-pound animal that can move like that can do a lot of damage. So if you see it, keep your distance, keep your pets indoors. If it's in a yard, especially if you got children … grab that kid… It's probably in everyone's best interest that we try to haze it out."

Leko added that if a moose is hanging out in the back corner of a yard, it's not that much of a threat, as opposed to it being right up beside the house.