Two moose calves die after likely eating poisonous ornamental plants

Published: Dec. 2, 2017 at 7:03 PM AKST
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Two moose calves found dead outside separate Anchorage homes on Friday are believed to have died from eating poisonous ornamental plants.

Alaska Moose Federation executive director Don Dyer says he noticed an abnormal odor and foam in the animals’ nostrils when he was called to collect them, symptoms that are indicative of cyanide poisoning. He says about a dozen Anchorage moose die this way every year, and it’s mostly calves that are affected.

“Some plants have cyanide in them like Japanese Yew and Chokecherry and other things that we plant to make our houses look good but unfortunately it poisons moose pretty quickly,” Dyer said.

Chokecherry trees are a common culprit in moose poisonings. According to horticulturist Steph Daniels, Chokecherry is sold at some Anchorage nurseries, and is a common feature in many lawns across town.

“They’re very popular,” she said. “Anything that’s not an indigenous birch and black spruce is going to do very well here. People are going to buy it because it gives a different look, a different appeal.”

Daniels says there’s a long list of both foreign and indigenous plants in Alaska that are poisonous to moose. But the animals typically avoid eating the toxic plants unless they are desperate for food.

“Adult moose do not eat them normally. When they’re very very hungry, we know from experience and from talking to our customers, moose will try anything. They will taste test and chew up anything at least once.”

Dyer says moose can die within minutes after eating the plants, often right next to the plant they just ate. He recommends Alaskans avoid buying and planting trees that are poisonous to moose, and remove any plants they already have.

“If you have those types of toxic plants, don’t put them in the yard in the first place and maybe replace them with something else,” Dyer said. “That would be really helpful because there’s a good number of moose calves that get killed from this every year in the Anchorage bowl.”

Daniels says another option is to spray your yard with moose repellent.

“You can spray any plant, any tree with a preventative to stop them from eating it. There are several different companies that produce products that warn moose not to eat it,” she said.

Because the calves found dead had likely been poisoned, Dyer says the meat was not salvageable. The carcasses were taken to the Anchorage dump and buried so that other animals wouldn’t have access to the meat.