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Moose in distress

How to rescue a moose from the deathly grip of rotten lake ice was not an issue we had ever spent any thought on.

How to rescue a moose from the deathly grip of rotten lake ice was not an issue we had ever spent any thought on.

One would assume that wild animals have an instinctive distrust of unsafe ice, but maybe not all moose are created equal.

As the lake ice turned shades of turquoise and started melting off from the chunks of shore ice, we watched a number of moose milling around discontentedly on the other side of the lake.

With wistful eyes they looked across at our shore, much in the way of airline passengers who have missed their flight. A couple of moose gingerly inched out on the ice, every fibre of their bodies keyed to the consistency of soft ice under their hooves.

Slowly shifting their weight from one leg to the next, they hesitantly turned around and went back on shore.

Not so the young bull moose one spring evening. With the slanting evening sun torching his ears a supernatural pink, he confidently walked out onto the slushy ice.

Surprised at his attitude, when the other moose had thought better of crossing the lake, we listened to the slop-slop of his steps as he headed our way. A few times he stopped and checked the wind for scents of danger, twirling his ears like antennas.

In this manner, he made good progress with the sun in his face until he reached the white scar of the snowmachine trail that cut across his path. Momentarily stumped, he looked left and right like a good pedestrian should before lowering his head to the ice surface.

With twitching nostrils, the moose investigated the compacted ice of the trail, undecided on what his best course of action might be. Raising his head with a ponderous look on his face, he carefully placed one leg on the trail, then stepped right on it.

Well pleased with the harder ice there, he walked on the trail for a few metres but then realized that it would not take him to the other shore. Now facing a new obstacle in the form of a huge meltwater puddle, the moose sniffed suspiciously at the water before getting off the trail.

Swallowed by the long shadows cast by the cliffs on shore, his sunlit pink ears were instantly snuffed out, becoming ordinary issue moose ears again. With just 300 metres separating him from shore, the moose picked up his pace and steadily squished through the slush until he had only a few more meters to go — but this on the softest, most rotten part of the ice.

He seemed to be positively hemming and hawing about the best route, his nose vibrating a couple of centimetres above the ice. Then he took a careful step forward, nothing happened, he took another step — and crashed right through the candle ice, sending crystals and water high into the air.

A split second later, his head bobbed up again, and he started frantically hammering at the ice with his hooves. Churning water and ice crystals into a white froth, he kept trying to get back up on the spot he had stood on before, but the ice kept giving way.

Sam and I were watching nervously as the moose turned and now attempted to push his head and front legs onto the shore ice.

This was sitting at a steep angle due to the ever-dropping water level throughout the winter, and the moose kept sliding back into the lake.

The minutes were passing and the moose paused in his attempts, treading water.

We tried to think how we could help, but worried that the already scared animal might turn on us in fear.

Could we chop away some of the shore ice to expose the rocks underneath?

The moose launched another series of unsuccessful attempts to push himself up on the shore ice, sliding off the slick sheet again and again.

It was unbearable to watch. Then suddenly, he gave a more forceful push with his hind legs and got his belly onto the ice.

Scrabbling with his hindquarters in the water, he finally found purchase and hauled himself out of the water onto the shore ice.

Sam and I cheered ecstatically but quietly as the moose stood still, dripping water and rallying his energy. After a couple of small steps, he jogged towards the trees and melted back into the forest.

He left behind only an open spot of water and two shaken bush people.

Sometimes, things get rather too exciting here.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.