Woman charged with wildlife harassment after touching moose in Breckenridge
State officials are once again asking residents and visitors to leave wildlife alone after a video of a woman harassing a moose in Breckenridge went viral late last week.
“We’ve seen the video, and we’ve been in touch with our local Summit County officers,” said Lyle Sidener, an area wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife for Summit and Grand counties. “Obviously, it’s a very scary situation, and the video reflects that what this person was doing was not in the moose’s best interest or hers.”
In the most recent example of wildlife harassment caught on camera, a woman is seen approaching a moose from behind and touching it as onlookers call for her to leave the animal alone. The moose then turned around and stomped the ground, nearly kicking the woman.
Anna Stonehouse, an Aspen resident who caught the incident on tape, said it played out at about 4:45 p.m. Thursday afternoon near the Breckenridge Transfer Station on Watson Avenue, not far from Main Street.
While some have since postulated that the woman was trying to distract the moose from approaching another woman on the sidewalk, Stonehouse said the moments leading up to the conflict suggest otherwise.
“She was following it across the street, clearly going in to harass it,” Stonehouse said. “I’ve been hearing that, ‘Oh, she was trying to help the older lady back there.’ That was not the case. She was aggressively beelining, following this moose and smacked its butt. … It was shocking to see it unfold. I thought she was going to get trampled to death. And I’m glad we didn’t have to witness that.”
Representatives with Parks and Wildlife agreed that the incident could have turned much more serious, noting that moose can weight up to 1,000 pounds and won’t hesitate to kick or charge when agitated. Wildlife officials also agreed that the woman’s actions weren’t made in good faith to try to protect someone else.
Sidener said the offender actually put the older woman in considerably more danger than she otherwise might have been in by herself, noting that if the moose reacted more violently, it could have meant trouble for everyone in the area.
“It was troubling,” Sidener said. “That young lady that swatted the moose put the older woman in a very bad position.”
The woman who hit the moose was cited with a summons to appear in court on a charge of harassment of wildlife and faces a fine of up to $200.
“It blew my mind that someone would be so ignorant and not know not to do that,” Stonehouse said. “But I was just glad she didn’t get hurt. A lot of people on social media have been kind of cruel, but I’m glad it didn’t unfold how we all know very well it could have.”
Despite their often-calm demeanors, Sidener said moose are perhaps the most dangerous animals in Colorado, particularly because they’re not afraid of humans. Sidener said moose populations are difficult to track, but estimated there are more than 500 in the Summit and Grand county region.
Conflicts with humans are most frequent during this time of the year. Sidener said that while moose are adept at trekking their way through deep snow, they’ll often make their way down to plowed sidewalks and packed-down trails for easier walking, which leads to more interactions with humans.
Sidener said that if you come across a moose on the sidewalk or trail, it’s best to backtrack and find another way around the animal. Individuals walking with dogs should use leashes and take extra caution as dogs tend to remind moose of wolves, one of the animal’s only natural predators.
According to Sidener, moose will have telltale signs that they’re about to become aggressive, including lowering their heads, pinning back their ears, raising the hair on the back of their necks and licking their snouts. If a moose exhibits aggressive behavior or begins to charge, run away and try and place a large object between yourself and the animal, such as a tree or car.
For more information on living with moose, visit Parks and Wildlife’s website.
“Everyone sees the cartoonish moose or the photos of them gently nibbling on willow limbs, and they think that because they don’t run away there’s no threat,” Sidener said. “But that’s because they’re not afraid of anything. They’re the biggest things out there, and they’re going to strike back if you cross their comfort level. They can be tremendously dangerous.”