The Wyoming Game and Fish Department joined forces with a number of Jackson community members recently to save a moose calf from an icy pond and a tragic fate.
“This is not necessarily a unique situation, with moose calves falling through the ice, but it is also unique in the fact that we were able to get there in time to save the calf,” department spokesman Mark Gocke told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “We normally don’t get a call about this situation until after the calf has died and been found.”
The afternoon of Jan. 24, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department office in Jackson was contacted by a landowner in the South Park area, alerting them to a moose calf that had fallen through a hole in an icy pond and could not get out.
Three department staff arrived on the scene to find a large manmade pond with at least four aerators in it, with open water around each of them, surrounded by thicker shelf ice. The calf could not touch the bottom of the pond, but was also unable to climb out of the hole due to the thick ice surrounding it.
Gocke noted there were several hurdles to overcome to save the calf, the main one being a cow moose, which had previously been collared by the department, standing nearby.
“You have an adult cow that’s obviously stressed out about its calf and is likely going to be protective against people getting near it,” he said. “Then, you have the ice that could break while you’re trying to get an animal out of the water. Plus, this is happening during the winter and it’s cold, so you have to do this in a certain amount of time.”
He noted that the Game and Fish staff wore lifejackets while doing the rescue, in case anyone went into the water.
To solve at least one problem, the Game and Fish staff tranquilized the cow moose for her own safety and the safety of the humans in the area.
However, then another issue popped up: she laid down on the ice. While the ice might have been relatively thick, a 600- to 700-pound animal falling asleep on it was probably not going to end well for anyone. One of the biologists was with the cow when she heard the ice crack underneath them.
The decision was made to reverse the tranquilizer, which got the cow up and off the ice in about five to 10 minutes. Then, she just watched as her calf was rescued from the icy water.
“Interestingly, she just laid down and watched and allowed everybody to get the calf out,” Gocke said.
A rope was tied around the calf, and it took at least four people to pull it out of the pond. By the time the young moose came out of the water, it had been in for at least 90 minutes and was hypothermic and exhausted.
By this time, two department wildlife veterinarians arrived on scene and went to work getting the calf warm by using blankets, towels and hot water bottles provided by all of the neighbors. It took about 45 minutes to get the calf warm and strong enough so it could stand on its own.
The mother and calf were reunited and the next day, a Jackson resident sent over a picture of the two after he spotted them while driving.
Gocke noted the incident was a good lesson for landowners who are using aerators in their manmade ponds to stop using them during the winter months, as animals can easily fall through the ice and drown.
“It was an exhausting and stressful situation, but what a great story this was,” Gocke said. “We could not have done this without the help of the landowners and neighbors, though.”