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Moose shot near Denali National Park visitor center

Laurel Andrews
This is the second time an animal has been killed in Denali National Park and Preserve since a federal law lifted the ban on carrying guns in national parks in 2010. National Park Service photo

A female moose was shot near the visitor center at Denali National Park on Thursday evening by man from Alaska visiting the park with his family. This is the second time an animal has been killed in the park since a federal law lifted the ban on carrying guns in national parks in 2010.

Around 7 p.m. on Thursday evening, a man, his wife and two young children were walking the Triple Lakes trail near the visitor center when they came across a moose.

The man reported that “they came around a corner ... and (the moose) charged him,” Kris Fister, Denali National Park spokesperson said. The family tried to hide behind a tree, but the man reported that the moose continued to charge, so he shot it once in the head with a handgun.

The animal didn't die immediately and had to be dispatched by a park ranger, who arrived about 15 minutes later.

The trails in the near vicinity were closed briefly after the incident, but are open again.

Moose are a common sight in the area surrounding the visitor center, which is a wooded area preferred by the animals. “If you’re going to run into a moose, it’s going to be in this area,” Fister said.

Park wildlife biologist Pat Owen said that two orphan calves, most likely belonging to the killed moose, were seen around the visitor center all day Friday and Saturday, but haven’t been spotted since.

The park is hoping to get them out of the area. “Just having them in the vicinity of the visitor center is a concern for us,” Owen said. Calves without their mother moose are extremely vulnerable, and make easy prey.

“The last thing I want to see is a bear kill outside of the visitor center,” she said.

“If we can locate them again, we’re starting the wheels turning to get them place in a facility.” The calves would most likely be sent to a captive rearing facility in the Matanuska-Susitna valley, where they would be reared through the summer, and released in the fall.

This is the second time an animal has been killed within park boundaries in the last few years. Carrying a firearm, whether a rifle, shotgun or handgun, in a national park was illegal until 2010, when a new federal law was passed allowing people to legally possess fire arms in the park.

Months later, in May 2010, a backpacker shot and killed a brown bear with nine shots from a .45-caliber pistol within the park boundaries.

Discharging a weapon in a national park is still illegal, however, unless the situation falls under the "Defense of Life and Property" section of Alaska statute. The case is under investigation by park rangers, and a decision will be made on whether the incident was warranted under the statutes. Fister said the man’s name would not be released unless charges were filed.

No park visitor has ever been injured by a moose during Fister's 17 years on the job. The only incident involving a moose was with a park employee who was working in the backcountry, when a moose leapt out of the brush and ran over him. The employee was uninjured.

Photographer Tom Walker, a Denali resident since 1969, said that he has only heard of one person who’s been injured by a moose -- a dog musher who was mushing in the park’s backcountry. That was at least 20 years ago, maybe more. “It’s very uncommon,” he said.

The park has no plans to remove other moose from the vicinity around the visitor center following the incident. “It’s Alaska. That’s what visitors come here to see,” she said.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com