Moose, Calf Set Up Home Outside Of Day Care In Thayne, Wyoming; Children Get Firsthand Science Lesson

The kiddos at Little Honeys Daycare in Thayne, Wyoming, were able to study a moose and her calf that had moved into the area right outside the school for three weeks before Game and Fish decided, for the safety of the children and the moose, to have them relocated.

Jake Nichols

February 22, 20236 min read

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The kiddos at Little Honey’s Daycare got a firsthand science lesson in all things alces alces after a moose and its calf were darted and carted from the day care’s grounds last week. 

Rainey Turner runs the day care from her home in Thayne, Wyoming. Beginning in February, a momma moose and her calf became regular residents of the neighborhood. 

The pair was often seen bedding down in the yard or munching on Turner’s mature landscaping.

“You’re going to lose those trees,” Turner’s mother kept warning her. 

Up and around in the trailer on the way to a new home. (Courtesy Wyoming Department of Game and Fish)

Moosing Around

Turner didn’t mind. She enjoyed having wildlife so close up and relished the opportunity for a teachable moment with her day care children.

“Reindeer, reindeer,” some of the littler ones shouted on a day the moose were particularly close to the building.

“Moose,” Turner corrected.

It was then she decided to devote that day, and the week really, to learning all about the largest member of the deer family. It was a perfect time for a science nature lesson. 

No need for a textbook or the overhead projector. The subject was right outside the window.

“We had a great craft hour discussing moose and having a moosey snack,” Turner said. “We watched a show on what they eat and where they live and how they grow. And then we danced like moose. I love my cute kids!”

Fun At First

The thing about moose is they tend to get a bit sedentary in winter, bedding down, foraging and expending as little energy as possible until deep snows melt and their range increases.

These particular moose appeared to make Thayne their home. For weeks, the cow and calf were spotted in and around the tiny burg in the heart of Star Valley in Lincoln County. 

Another thing about moose is they can be dangerous. Add a maternal instinct to protect their young and the potential for conflict was real.

“She wasn’t leaving … and she could get pretty aggressive,” Turner said. “We are on a busy road right in front of the elementary school. 

“We haven’t been able to have children walk to the bus stop by themselves. They had to cancel recess at school the other day.”

Game & Fish Responds

Wyoming Game & Fish was called in. 

South Jackson wildlife biologist Gary Fralick made a few attempts to haze the moose family off school grounds and away from the day care. 

No luck.

“I responded on two separate occasions without success. There’s just nowhere for the moose to go,” Fralick said. “This winter has been extraordinary in a lot of ways. Steady cold temperatures and persistent deep snow. It feels a lot like 2017, which was the worst we’ve seen around here since the winter of 1983-84.”

Fralick said his department typically see moose and other big game more frequently in populated areas where roads and pathways are plowed. It’s easier for them to get around and usually plenty of ornamental shrubs nearby to snack on. 

“They were going to try to coax them onto my property, but you can’t get animals to stay where they don’t want to,” said neighbor Kody Hebdon.

(Photos Courtesy Rainey Turner)

Moose Moving Day

The day finally came when wildlife managers felt they had to act. Momma moose was shot with a tranquillizer gun first. She wobbled for a short time until her legs gave out and went gently to the ground. 

The younger one was given a lesser dose on account of its size. 

“With moose visiting the elementary school and the potential for people to surprise them while they were bedded down, it just became a human safety issue and that’s when we do take action,” Fralick said. “The tranquilizer worked perfectly. It came off really well.”

The kids at the day care watched the entire process, interjecting here and there with numerous questions.

“It was really fun, actually,” Turner said. “We got to explain to the kids what was happening; that they were going to put a little medicine in her and put her to sleep. 

“We talked about the importance of Game & Fish and what they do. Later, Game & Fish was thoughtful enough to send me pictures to show the class that the moose were up and around and doing fine.”

Moving the knocked-out moose to the trailer was no easy chore. After a lot of snow shoveling, Game & Fish personnel welcomed a little muscle from Hebdon and others to get mamma moose onto a tarp and sledded across the yard. 

Once inside, it was off to the elk feedground in Alpine where the moose family will hopefully ride out the winter with a little less celebrity. 

Kids at Little Honey’s Daycare made art projects of their experience with a mama moose and her calf. (Photo Courtesy Rainey Turner)

Close Encounters 

Close up encounters like these with wildlife are a fairly common occurrence in rural communities across Wyoming, especially in harsh winters like this one where snow and cold drive ungulates closer to populated areas at lower elevations. 

Turner has seen moose aplenty growing up in Thayne. The 26-year-old recently moved back to the area, buying her childhood home, where she runs her day care. 

“It’s not the first time we’ve had moose come close and hang around here. I remember them from when I was a kid,” she said.

“They were bound to get hit or hurt someone,” she added of this mama and calf. “I wish they could have stayed, but it was much safer for them to get back home.”

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter