Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

By , May 30, 2018

A recent event involving the tour company Michelle and Aly work for, Rainbow Glacier Adventures, compels me to rethink an event from about five years ago.

Apparently, some of the guides stopped along the Haines Highway to join a group of people watching the Chilkat River. A very young moose calf hunkered down on a sand bar, alone.

The people told the guides that they had watched a cow moose give birth to the calf, then leave it on the sand bar, swimming away. As they watched, people driving a large, loud motor home pulled up to see what was going on. At that point, the calf got up and entered the river, eventually swimming to the near shore.

Maybe the crowd gathering during the birthing had frightened the mother moose. Or, this may have been her first calf, and she simply didn’t know what to do. Maybe they reunited on the river bank later? More likely, the calf was abandoned. As a new born, even one that managed to swim across the river, its life expectancy could probably be estimated in hours.

This all seemed familiar to me. Too familiar . . . .

moose calf

The moose calf on a Chilkat River sandbar (Photo: Kim Clune)

In my post from 2013, A Close Encounter, I describe meeting a moose calf on Mud Bay Road, near where we park our car. After hearing this recent story, I’m looking at those events in a different light.

One of the guides posted a short video of the calf on her Facebook page. Michelle played it for me, and what I saw and heard made me think that the calf I encountered in 2013 may have been just as newly born! I remember that the calf was very wet. I now suspect that it may have been wet from birthing, not swimming, as I assumed at the time.

Being a newborn would also explain its willingness to approach me, bleating pitifully, as if seeking comfort.

The calf I saw had probably also been abandoned, making its fate far less uncertain than I wanted to believe at the time. Knowing that now, I almost regret not offering the poor, frightened, doomed creature a moment of the reassurance it seemed to crave so desperately, rather than chasing it away to “save its life” by not infecting it with human scent.

newborn moose calf

One of Kim’s excellent stills, vidcapped (Photo: Kim Clune)

Both of these incidents remind me that we don’t live in Disneyland. This is not a theme park, or wild animal preserve. It’s Nature, “red in tooth and claw” as Alfred, Lord Tennyson so memorably put it. Things happen—whether bad or good is left to the judgement of the witnesses, and should be restricted to the effects felt by them rather than expanded to an assessment of the situation in general.

To further abuse an overused phrase, it’s all good. Nothing will go to waste. It’s harsh to those of us who adore baby animals to remember that baby animals do die, but lost lives feed other lives. That’s how it goes, no matter whether we approve or not. (See also “Murder” in the Forest).

Check back soon for a link to Kim Clune’s blog post and video of the sandbar calf!

2 Responses to “Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw”

  1. Kim Clune says:

    Excellent thoughts on the possibility of dire outcomes with these young, Mark. As a new guide, I went from elated to horrified to relieved to still worried in a matter of minutes. In the instance of my sighting, the fuller story is that the baby left nothing but an indent in the grass by the following morning with zero signs of distress. It was not likely preyed upon given the cleanliness of the site. My hope is still that mama came back after the RV and buses were gone. That may be wishful thinking, but there is no evidence to the contrary. I’ll take that small after of hope this time around.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Kim, you’re right, there is a chance. Now that I think back on my experience, we looked for signs of “our” calf, and we never found the slightest trace. Obviously, from this post and the original story about the calf we saw, I know very little about what might go through the mind of a mamma moose. We may as well cling to hope, right?

    Please email Michelle or me with the URL of your blog post, and I’ll add it to this post. And, thanks again for sharing your story and photos with us so generously! I look forward to meeting you, both Michelle and Aly say I’m going to like you a lot, like they do.

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