Drama on the Chilkat River

This moose, under an hour old, was delivered on a silt bar in the middle of the Chilkat River. Byrne, my fellow tour guide, and I had just come to wait for our rafting guests to land. As we made our way to the pullout, mom was racing across to the far side of the river and disappeared. That’s when we saw the babe.

This Newborn Alaskan moose was left alone and trembling. He hunched on the silt bar with bent back legs, unsure of how they worked. Water rushed around all sides. He chirped for his mother over the water’s din, but she didn’t come. Only a hungry bald eagle answered the call.

As the babe first stretched a back leg and then a front leg, I watched I awe of his first steps. Nobody taught him what to do. He just did it.  Instinct.

The babe came to the  water’s edge and paused, sniffing toward the shore opposite his mother. His next steps felt like a mistake. He walked with purpose into the water as we thought to ourselves, “Wong way! Go back!”

Just then, as swift, icy-blue glacial current carried him away. He rushed a quarter of a mile downstream as we ran to see through the trees. My heart sank with this sinking moose as only his nostrils rose above the surface. I stopped the camera and looked away.

Miraculously, the moose caught traction at another silt bar. Without getting tangled in the trees, he fought the current with every step toward shore and climbed the banks just beyond our view.

We ran along the roadside, slowing where we thought he was, and found him spent and wet in the low, narrow shoulder between the highway and the river. He stood stock still, ears back, calculating our next move. We feared startling him into traffic or back into the water. Noting his location and lack of injuries, we backed off and let him rest.

As he laid innocently in a patch of lime green horsetail under towering black cottonwood trees recovering from is ill adventure, our minds raced. The large black bear seen nearby worried us. Wolves and coyote were also threats. Would any one of them find the babe before his mama did? A single raptor couldn’t take him down, but a team was gathering. Three bald eagles now hovered on branches above — watching, waiting, hoping.

On our second rafting run of the day, while our guests floated down the river, Byrne and I checked on the little fella. He was napping in the soft, filtered light, no longer harassed by eagles. Sensing us, he rose to his feet, blinking with big, bright eyes. His coat had dried to a rich red color. Again, noting his progress, we backed off.

It had been hours without food or protection for the babe. If mom delivered a twin elsewhere, she might not come back. Those who saw her before we arrived say she looked inexperienced.

My guiding partner and I called a local rehabilitator. He was on board to monitor the situation. We all crossed fingers that mom would find her baby and all would be right with the world.

The following day, where the young moose had been, only an indentation in the grass remained. No signs of distress or struggle. No signs of bear, wolf, coyote or eagle. One can only surmise, and I choose to believe, that Momma came. Given that this little warrior learned to walk, swim, take shelter and survive in the very first hour of life, my hope is that he will have a long, happy and adventurous life ahead of him. (And my aching heart can relax!)

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