ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An aggressive cow moose was fatally shot last week at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, prompting concerns that two calves seen in the area since then could attract bears to the park's busy entrance, a park biologist said Monday.
A park visitor shot the moose that he said charged at his group, which included two young children. A ranger then fatally shot the wounded animal about 200 yards from the park visitor center. Someone who salvaged the moose said the animal was lactating, National Park Service officials said.
Two apparently orphaned calves have been seen in the area several times since the shooting Thursday evening, according to Pat Owen, a park biologist. She said wildlife technicians were monitoring the scene carefully and did not see the calves there Monday morning.
The shooting was the second time a wild animal has been fatally shot in the 6-million-acre park since 2010, when licensed gun owners were allowed to bring loaded firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges as long as they are allowed by state law.
Given the close proximity to the busy visitor center, there was a sense of urgency to move the calves once they are spotted again, Owen said. Leaving them there could draw bears looking for a moose meal.
"Worst case scenario for us, from a management perspective, is if we have a kill very close to the visitor center," Owen said. "It's going to be a management nightmare if that happens."
If the calves were in a more remote place, park staff likely wouldn't intervene. But in this unusual case, the hope is for another nursing moose to take the "not unheard of" action and adopt the calves, Owen said. Other options are to move the calves farther away or send them to a wildlife refuge.
Denali spokeswoman Kris Fister said rangers have not confirmed there are calves. Owen, however, said there have been several reported sightings of two calves in the area. Each time, an adult moose was not seen and the calves have approached people or let people approach, which is unusual behavior for calves when a cow moose is around.
"We're pretty darn sure that we've got a couple orphaned calves down there," Owen said.
The man who shot the moose was visiting with a family that included a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, according to Fister. Their identities were not released, but Fister said they live in Alaska.
The moose reportedly charged without provocation when the group came upon it around a corner on a trail. The people tried to hide behind a tree, but the moose continued to move toward them, prompting the man to shoot the animal with a handgun he was carrying.
The shooting was reported and a ranger went out to dispatch the moose.
"The ranger did have to put the moose out of her misery," Fister said.
The incident is under investigation.
The only other similar known situation at Denali since guns have been allowed involved a grizzly bear in May 2010, according to chief ranger Pete Webster.
In that incident, a North Pole man told authorities he shot the bear after it charged his girlfriend while the two were hiking up Tattler Creek. The Park Service did not pursue charges, saying the man's actions were justified.
Denali is located 240 miles north of Anchorage. It is home to numerous wild animals, including moose, bears, wolves and caribou.