Moose In Our Midst: How Poland's Wildlife Preservation Worked A Bit Too Well
Wild moose have been spotted on Polish beaches and even near cities. They're a rare example of successful conservation efforts, but they're increasingly coming into contact with people.
GDANSK — Images of wild moose roaming the streets and beaches of Poland’s Baltic coast have been cropping up online more frequently. What should someone do if they encounter one? According to Mateusz Ciechanowski, a biologist at the University of Gdansk, the best option is to leave them alone.
“This is the result of the consistent protection that has been provided to this species of moose,” said Ciechanowski. “As the numbers increase, so does the animals’ range”.
Various media outlets have been publishing reports about spotted wild moose in the cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot with increasing frequency. Perhaps more surprising is that these moose have been seen on beaches as well.
Centuries ago, moose could be found all over the European continent. But, like the European bison, they were often hunted for their value as an attractive game animal.
Aside from population declines due to hunting, the drainage of European wetlands also decreased the number of viable moose habitats. The animals, which prefer marshy areas, dwindled without the proper natural environment to flourish in.
In Poland specifically, moose populations were especially affected by the Second World War, and only those from the Biebrza marshes in northeast Poland managed to survive it.
Luckily, moose populations have been seeing significant recoveries. As Ciechanowski said, the fact that there are greater numbers of moose is a success story in and of itself.
“Although moose do appear on the list of game animals, it does have protected animal status year-round,” said Ciechanowski, who called these species protections “a rare example of species conservation success”.
There aren’t many examples of such successful species recovery.
He mentioned that in Poland, the cormorant, the beaver, and the wolf were also saved from local extinction. However, compared to the number of habitat and population losses, “there aren’t many examples of such successful species recovery".
Current estimates suggest the number of moose in Poland ranges from 20-30,000.
Moose in Poland
aparat_w_krzokach via Instagram
On May 21, local media reported a collision between a car and a wild moose on the southern bypass of Gdansk, raising concerns about what this population recovery could mean for surrounding metropolitan areas.
“At the same time as these successes in habitat and population recovery efforts have occurred, Poland’s road infrastructure has been developing and expanding,” Ciechanowski explains. “As more and more areas are being built up, it is not surprising that animals are ending up in these places."
The biologist recommends that if a person spots a moose in a densely populated area, they should report the sighting to the appropriate authorities, so that the moose can be safely scared away. This can help protect the moose, as well as any people or vehicles in the area. He admits that this process is more difficult on highways, which should ideally be fenced off in order to prevent animals from entering traffic. Even so, he suggests that blocked-off highways be compensated for by building an appropriate number of animal crossings.
Moose are very tall, and have long legs.
“No other mammals cause as significant and dangerous demolitions with vehicles as moose do,” Ciechanowski said. “Moose are very tall, and have long legs. When hit by a car, the animal’s body will immediately fall through the windshield and into the car."
The same day that the accident in Gdansk was reported, images published online showed groups of adult moose walking along the sidewalks of the city.
“Urban areas are a fatal risk for these animals,” says Ciechanowski. “Not only is there the risk of colliding with moving vehicles, which can kill passengers as well as animals, but sharply-ridged fences can also kill these mammals when they attempt to jump over them and cross into other areas."
A moose is seen by a tree in Poland
aparat_w_krzokach via Instagram
Advice for animal encounters
A few moose have also been observed at the Stogi Beach in Gdansk. As it turns out, this is a species that does very well for itself in or near water.
“These animals can dive up to a meter below the water’s surface,” says the biologist.
Witnesses of moose visitors on Baltic beaches recall that the animals were quick to attack humans who came too close. Since human-moose encounters are becoming all the more common with the species’ recovery and growth, does this mean that the areas will become more dangerous for people?
Moose will not attack a person who is not bothering them.
“Moose will not attack a person who is not bothering them,” says Ciechanowski. “The risk of them becoming aggressive stems 100% from human foolishness."
His final piece of advice: “You cannot simply approach a large, wild animal. If you encounter one yourself, the best thing to do is to leave them alone."
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