Feeding an injured moose and her calf has become one of life’s lessons for a Red Deer-area couple.
For almost four weeks, Mike Haustein and his wife Christine Markwart have been setting out apples and other produce for a moose cow and calf that wandered onto their property in the Shady Nook district about 20 minutes northwest of Penhold.
Since the couple first went public earlier this week, they have sought advice and support in feeding their big guests.
As big as a saddle horse, the moose has been gobbling up 10 to 12 kg of fresh produce per meal, four times a day.
The couple are serving discarded fruits and vegetables from three Red Deer grocery stores: Costco, Gaetz South Sobeys and Port O’ Call Safeway.
Haustein and Markwart have heard some cautions from Chris Kelly, a wildlife officer with Red Deer Fish and Wildlife.
“People buy into helping animals in winter when it’s cold and they’re distressed, and that’s fine. There’s a way to do it,” said Kelly.
Getting it wrong can put people in danger and be a death sentence for the animals they are trying to help, Kelly told the Advocate.
A moose that associates food with people will become as dangerous as a garbage-lot grizzly bear and could end up being put down, he said. It’s vital that anyone feeding wildlife makes sure the animals don’t get used to being around people.
“Down the road, they’re going to run into somebody. They could come into the city and run into somebody on the bike path and if that person doesn’t offer them strawberries, they could become aggressive and attack that person.”
It’s also important to make sure the animals get the types of food they’re accustomed to eating, said Kelly. Crabapples, wild berries and hay are normal ingredients in a moose diet. But other foods, including horse or cattle supplements as well as fresh fruits and vegetables can cause problems because wild ungulates can’t digest them.
Kelly cited an incident near Bowden last year in which a number of deer died of malnutrition after gorging themselves on food that was not normally part of their diet.
Haustein said he and Markwart are taking Kelly’s advice to heart. They brought the feeder to the house because they were worried about a bull moose that was pestering the injured cow.
The feeder has now been moved to the other side of the barn, where it can be filled while the animals are off napping.
Haustein said he has started weaning the cow off groceries and has instead been cutting wild branches for her.
“We don’t want to have any contact — I don’t want to domesticate these things. I don’t want them as a pet,” he said.
While Haustein and Markwart still hope to find a way of treating the moose’s injured leg, Kelly said wild animals do suffer injuries from time to time and will recover on their own.
“Deer and moose quite often get hurt. We have deer in the city that are lame but they survive because they have to,” said Kelly.
“I’m in the business of helping animals. By the same token, if you do it, you have to do it in ways that don’t endanger other people.”