In this week’s Ask Your Weird Animal Questions, you’ve got questions and we’ve got antlers—because this week is all about the moose. The largest of all the deer species, moose are found in the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia.
Why haven’t moose been domesticated? They seem like they’d be more useful than horses.—Arietta, U.K.
Moose can be easily domesticated, according to wildlife biologist Vince Crichton, a 40-year veterinarian at Manitoba Conservation. For instance, he remembers an orphaned calf named Benji that was tamed and raised by a government employee in Riding Mountain National Park.A moose in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic
“I used to follow him in the bush to watch and record his browsing activities,” Crichton said. “When he was not looking I would sneak away, only to have him come running to find me.”
Crichton also visited a moose ranch in Yaksha, Russia, where moose milk is collected for hospitals to use as an aid in curing digestive disorders. The ranchers “let the [moose] cows outside to browse on vegetation, and when they want them back for milking, [they] open the gate, ring a bell, and watch out—you will get run over.” (See “Super Moose Facts.”)
Another example: Bottle-raised moose at Alaska’s Kenai Moose Research Center are studied by moose researchers from all over the world.
Even though moose can be domesticated, they’re unlikely to be the next horse. For one, the large mammals don’t take to being ridden (that famous photograph of Theodore Roosevelt riding a moose is a fake).
In addition, they’re found only in northerly regions and they prefer to browse on various vegetation (their Algonquin name means “twig eater”), making feeding them in captivity more problematic, noted Pete Pekins, a wildlife and conservation biologist at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham.
How far can moose swim?—Victoria Lawrence via Facebook
They might not look like it, but moose are excellent swimmers and can completely submerge underwater for up to 30 seconds. According to Canadian Geographic, moose can swim up to 10 miles (16 kilometers) and can dive 16 feet (5 meters) to find vegetation to eat on the bottom of a lake.
Here’s a video of a moose fording the Yellowstone River, and another of one that decided to take a dip in a backyard swimming pool of a very surprised family in Redmond, Washington (he goes for the deep end at about 3:30).
Are moose solitary or do they travel in pairs or groups? What do you call a group of moose? A herd? Something else?—Ken Towery via Facebook
A group of moose is called a herd. Males are bulls, females are cows, and babies are calves. Their scientific name is Alces alces.
Though many moose are called a herd, they tend to be lone travelers. According to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web, moose are the least social member of the deer family.
The sexes stay separated, possibly because of varying nutritional needs. The herbivores stay apart until mating season in September and October, when bulls in search of cows make loud calls—and sometimes fight—for mates. (See video: “America the Wild: Moose Fight.”)