Crowds after rare Whistler moose sighting

Conservation officers urge people to keep their distance from the animal and their dogs on leash

A female moose sighted last Thursday (March 7) at Fitzsimmons Creek across from the Montebello development has caused quite a stir among residents and visitors to Whistler trying to catch a rare glimpse of the ungulate.

Moose sightings are relatively uncommon in the Whistler area. Tim Schumacher of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said moose are sometimes seen in Pemberton, with an unofficial Ministry of Environment estimate counting 30 to 80 animals in the Pemberton Valley, with sightings in Whistler usually occurring only "every few years or so," he said.

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"They're wild animals and they don't want to come in close proximity to people, but for some reason this one has found a little spot of good moose habitat and it's not in any hurry to leave," Schumacher added.

"As long as people keep their dogs on a leash and it's not being harassed too much by people, it may very well stick around."

Schumacher said the female moose has been in the area for several months, with sightings reported at Nicklaus North Golf Course and near the Whistler Waldorf School by Spruce Grove Park.

This most recent sighting in a patch of timber attracted significant attention with dozens gathering along Blackcomb Way Thursday to get a good look at the moose. Local photographer Geoff Jansen snapped several shots of the animal that were featured on the Vancouver Sun's website.

"I got a tip from a friend in the morning who said she saw it on the way to work, so I headed over there and looked around a bit," said Jansen.

After an hour walking along a nearby path, Jansen saw the moose at a distance of around 25 feet and snapped a few photographs before she entered a wooded area.

"We spooked each other," he said. "I was stuck on the trail and never entered the protected area the moose was in."

After the news spread, dozens of onlookers parked their cars along Blackcomb Way, blocking traffic in some cases, said Schumacher, who issued a ticket to one driver who had parked illegally.

"One difficulty we had is when people were stopping on both sides of the road, crossing back and forth and not parking off the road; it becomes a safety risk," he said. "That day that I was out there, I had to move the moose along because people continued to park in no parking areas and completely block the road."

Schumacher stressed caution for anyone who comes across the moose, urging locals to maintain a safe distance.

Prior to Thursday's sighting, Schumacher said there was a confirmed instance of a dog chasing the female moose, and he has heard of several other similar cases.

"The moose actually charged toward the dog," he said. "Oftentimes, the dog is right close by someone else so it's a frightening situation for that person, so we want to make sure people use caution."

Owners of pets that come into conflict with a wild animal are liable for up to a $345 fine in the province.

"If people continue to allow their dogs to chase this moose what can happen is the moose could become aggressive towards people and we don't want it to get to that point; trying to relocate this moose is really stressful on it, it involves sedating it," said Schumacher, who added that ungulates can experience a potentially fatal condition induced by stress called capture myopathy.

"It's kind of a last resort for us to have to move this animal, we want to try and prevent that from happening in the first place. Right now, I don't foresee that, but you never know with the amount of people that are attempting to get a look at this animal," he said.

Anyone that sees wildlife in the area should call the Report All Polluters and Poachers toll-free line at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or text #rapp on their cell phones.

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