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Biology 103
2001 First Web Report
On Serendip

"Brake for Moose; It Could Save Your Life"- Really!

Rianna Ouellette

Moose (Alces alces) are impressive animals to view: they stand tall; have a floppy upper lip, a dewlap underneath their necks, a massive body, and a small tail. If you are lucky enough to see a bull, he may be carrying a rack, which can grow up to two meters across. They are the largest members of the deer family, averaging a height of one meter at the shoulder (5) . This fact becomes very important if one was to meet a moose standing in the middle of the road. Their coats range from gold-brown to black, depending on the season and the age of the animal (1) , and this fact, too, becomes important when encountering moose in the night. Another good thing to know about moose is how heavy they can get. An adult male in his prime can weigh between 1,200-1,600 pounds (1) . So moose are tall, dark, and heavy, if not handsome (2) . Why should people care? Because if you were to encounter a moose at night in the road, it could kill you.

. Moose-vehicle collisions (MVC) are most common in Alaska, Northern New England, and the Northwest provinces of Canada. These collisions are costly, will most likely kill the moose, and will probably injure or kill the passengers in the vehicle. "It took almost a month for doctors to remove all the glass from Audrey Carr's eyes after her car hit a moose last spring [1996] in rural Dorchester. Her husband, who was driving, was cut on the arms and chest. The steering wheel was crushed and the windshield shattered. 'The moose just about took the roof off the car,' said Carr, who was knocked unconscious. 'It caused $9,000 worth of damage to the car' "(5) . Dr. John Sutton, a surgeon at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, NH, is interested with moose-related accidents. He found that "23 people were hospitalized at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Maine Medical Center and Eastern Maine Medical Center over 4 1/2 years for injuries suffered in moose-vehicle accidents, and two of them died of head injuries. Seventy percent of those who were not killed suffered head or facial injuries, and 26 percent had severe spine injuries" (5). That is an incredible amount of damage, and the risk of hitting a moose should not be taken lightly. Signs appear throughout New England (4) warning drivers of moose near the road, and bumper stickers that bear the same slogan ("Brake for Moose; It Could Save Your Life") can be seen on vehicles of all types. In Alaska there is a different type of warning poster (3) serving the same purpose.

In some areas, the moose population has grown to the point where people expect to see moose by the roads. Moose Alley, along route 3 in New Hampshire is one such place. There are specific "moose watching" directions to be followed, as well. Moose tend to be on the roads between dusk and early morning, so extra caution during those times is needed. If you are purposefully out moose watching, there are designated spots in which you can sit and wait for moose. Otherwise, if you see one you are to pull far off the road at once. Local police have been known to ticket those who do not (6) .

A good question to ask is why do MVCs occur? There are (of course!) several main reasons. A Canadian province has a site about MVCs listing some of these reasons: to obtain road salt left from winter de-icing operation, feed on the vegetation along the roadside, gain relief from flies in the open windswept right-of-ways, and in winter, to travel roadways cleared of deep snow (7) . However, accidents involving moose usually happen on dry roads, on clear nights, and on straight road as opposed to curved roads (8) . In Newfoundland 75% of MVCs happen between dusk and dawn, when moose are more active. 70% of accidents occur between June 1 and October 31 (8) . As we become aware of what attracts moose to the roads, we should also be aware of what can scare them off, or at least discourage them. Methods of deterring moose are realigning the highways, educating drivers, planting foliage that moose do not prefer as food, or clearing the sides of the road of foliage. In Sweden this method cut down on their MVCs by 20% (10) .

So if people are aware of the moose, what causes accidents? The possible answer is that moose are very difficult to actually see if one is driving at night. Their coats tend to not reflect car headlights, and their eyes are so high up that they do not catch or reflect the light (11) . " 'Their coats don't reflect anything,' recalled Louise Jordan of Northfield, who almost hit two moose four years ago. 'I thought, `Why are there trees in the road?' I didn't realize they were moose' "(5) . Moose behavior is also unpredictable; a moose standing alongside the road may at the last moment, dart out in front of an oncoming car (11) . Moose are also not afraid of headlights, and will not run from approaching vehicles. One key factor that makes hitting moose a bad idea is their weight and height. A moose weighs roughly half as much as an average-sized car, and their belly lines up with the top of a windshield. So when a moose is struck head on, all that weight is suddenly thrown right on top of the driver and front seat passenger because the moose's legs have been cut out from under it. This usually crushes the top of the vehicle and kills the moose (5) . Due to where the moose's weight comes down, it is then not surprising to know that injuries are more severe than if a deer was struck, and that head and neck injuries are more common with moose accidents than deer accidents(9) .

Nothing can really be done to completely stop MVCs from happening, save hunting moose into extinction. So we must rely on driver education and wariness. MVCs, while they usually kill the moose, do not tend to drastically affect moose populations. Avoiding moose collisions is the job of human drivers. We can only be aware of moose behavior and realize that we share our space with them. Respect is needed when dealing with moose, if only for their sheer size and unpredictability. The amount of damage a moose can do should be kept in mind when driving up North. It should not cause fear of driving, but rather promote awareness in where and when accidents are most likely to occur, how to avoid them, and what to do if complete avoidance is not possible.

WWW Sources

1) ADF&G's Wildlife Notebook Series, Moose

2)Moose, Pictures

3) Moose Kills, The Magnificent Moose Project

4) GoMoose!

5) CNN- They Call Him 'Dr. Moose'

6) Wildlife Watcher Connecticut Lakes Region, New Hampshire

7) Moose-vehicle collisions

8) Results of review of moose-vehicle collisions

9) Learning Center Insights

10) Under the Canopy, October 1999

11) Driving in Moose Country

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