Visitors to a Canadian national park were greeted by a rather unusual digital road sign this weekend: “Don’t let the moose lick your car.”
The sign caught the imagination of the internet and led to questions such as:
“What happens if a moose licks your car?”
“Is this really such a big deal?”
And, perhaps most important: “How exactly would you stop them?”
As it turns out, the signs were put up by officials in Jasper National Park in the southwestern province of Alberta to try to keep moose from licking road salt from cars in the idling – a serious problem that can present hazards to vehicles, drivers and moose.
Steve Young, a spokesperson for the park, said in an interview Monday that moose typically get their salt, an essential part of their diet, from salt licks – deposits of salt and minerals scattered throughout the park. But the animals found they could get the mineral from cars splashed with road salt. (It started to snow in Jasper, and salt can help melt ice on roads.)
Thus, the moose roamed the roads crossing the 2.8 million acre park, increasing the chances of cars hitting them and drivers being injured or killed.
The warning was similar to that of park rangers trying to prevent campers from leaving food at campgrounds for fear of encouraging bears to return to the site, Young said.
“If you find a restaurant you really like, would you go back?” he said. “Yes, you do. That’s what wildlife does. They will come back; they will get used to it. They are more likely to lick each other indiscriminately. If the opportunity isn’t there, they don’t learn that it’s a way to replenish their diet. So we are trying to seize this opportunity. “
Collisions can cause significant damage, Mr. Young added.
“When you have a car-moose collision, both sides lose,” he says. “You put at least one 800-pound animal in the air. They will pass through a windshield because of the way their legs are.
The park has seen an increase in human-wildlife encounters in recent years, according to Young. Drivers who stop to take pictures of or with animals make the problem worse.
“What we see the most is people are a little more daring with wildlife because of the selfie generation, Instagram – people are getting a little closer to wildlife than they should be,” did he declare.
Mr. Young stressed that no matter which national park you visit, it’s important to keep your distance from animals. “The more space there is between you and the wildlife, the healthier it is for them and for you,” he says.
It is illegal to feed or disturb wildlife in a Canadian national park, and violators can face fines of up to 25,000 Canadian dollars ($ 19,000).
The moose’s message isn’t the only double tip worthy of being taken by Jasper National Park regarding human-animal relations in recent days. Last week, the park tweeted warning residents not to hang Christmas lights in open spaces so as not to get tangled in elk antlers.
Mr. Young explained that moose often roam Jasper – a township of just 4,600 people located in the middle of a 4,200 square mile national park – to seek shelter from predators like wolves. Their antlers could be caught in Christmas lights hung at ground level.
As for moose, motorists can prevent them from licking their cars by staying out of licking range, according to a Tweeter by Jasper National Park: “Moose licking usually occurs on cars stopped to see moose. Stay beyond the distance between the moose’s tongue and the moose’s tongue when moving forward before a moose approaches.
How does Mr. Young define “tongue-moose distance”?
“I actually don’t know how long a moose tongue lasts,” he admitted. But the park’s guidelines for how far people should stay from animals are 30 meters, or 100 feet, he said.
He acknowledged that if you find your car upon receiving a moose lick, your options may be limited.
“As someone who has had their car licked by a big horned sheep, I realize that the options are limited when you are parked,” he said.
“We understand that in some situations patience can be your friend, and the surest thing you can do is stay where you are.”