City moose in Anchorage, Alaska

This is Sara Komarnisky, PhD student at UBC, currently in Anchorage doing fieldwork with Mexican migrants and immigrants here. One thing about life in Anchorage that is funny and fits very much with clichés about Alaska are all of the MOOSE!

Just like on TV

There are moose all over the city, all year, but they are especially noticeable in the fall and winter. They eat Halloween pumpkins and nibble on tree branches in front yards, and I have been prevented from leaving my house twice already due to a moose in the front yard! Moose amble down city streets and park paths, they sleep in deep snowbanks in front yards, and some neighborhoods see the same moose make its rounds day after day. About once a week, an email is sent to my entire university department informing us that there is a moose in the parking lot. One even went inside a local hospital using the automatic doors!! Recently, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game gave permission to a group of conservationists called the Alaska Moose Federation to start feeding the moose, in an attempt to keep them off of roads and sidewalks and prevent collisions and confrontations between moose and people.

My neighbourhood moose

Moose are managed by the state of Alaska for “abundance” – that means it’s a state goal to make sure there are lots of moose for hunting and ultimately, for food. Actually, I went to a talk a while ago about bear management in Alaska, and how recently hunting regulations on predators like bears have become more relaxed in order to increase numbers of moose. The idea is that bears prey on baby moose, and limiting the number of bears by increased hunting should lead to higher numbers of moose for local hunters.

Anyway, all of the moose and the politics around it got me thinking about life in a northern city and of human-animal relations. Urban experience always includes wildlife – but usually that means squirrels, pigeons, maybe rats or raccoons. Not moose. Also, I am starting to see how saving the moose is tied up with state plans to maintain high populations of moose for people to hunt and to eat. Finally, moose are a stereotypical but important symbol of life here – one that is taken up by my research participants and that travels with them to Mexico. I wonder what everyone thinks about this. Are there similar large urban animals in other northern cities?

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2 Responses to City moose in Anchorage, Alaska

  1. Wow! I wasn’t aware that moose are THAT numerous around there? I was in Anchorage only for some days in summer and didn’t see any. But what I DID see was a lot of moose symbolism! I think the moose is not only being preserved as a source of country food (including for urban dwellers), but also as a symbol to take along as a souvenir. I wonder if the shelves of your field partners’ families in Mexico are full of moose-mugs, moose-towels, moose-candies, and what not?
    In northern Finland the moose population is also highly regulated, and hunting moose is a culturally very significant activity also for urban people. Our neighbours for example do it. The sharing of the prey – such an important topic in anthropology! – is quite interesting and sophisticated, because a certain share of the moose goes to the owners of the land, symbolically, and then the hunt is collective in hunting communities, so you need to share with the other members of the community.
    However, we don’t see so often moose in town. How come they are not shy in Anchorage?
    What we often get is reindeer. They eat berries in our garden, roam in our street, etc. And that is also a tourist attraction and exploited in the souvenir business.
    What is interesting to analyse in the urban realm I think is the choice of animal symbolism. What do people associate with a particular animal, if they buy it, be it as food or as souvenir? Anna Stammler-Gossmann has e.g. written on this for the Siberian Sakha Republic, where the symbolic animal changed from the reindeer to the horse to the cow (http://arcticcentre.ulapland.fi/docs/net_9_stagoss.pdf). Also relevant is probably the whole movement for organic, natural and local food. Do you think that this plays a role in Anchorage? There is an interesting article by Brad Weiss (2011) about how pigs become a symbol of place-based identity in Northern Carolina (http://www.culanth.org/?q=node/408). He argues that place is constructed in action and experience, imbued with concrete meanings and orientations (Weiss 2011:440), here through the raising and consumption of pigs that become emblematic for the place.
    It seems to me that this association works even much better for the moose in Anchorage, because it’s probably considered as inherently local, if it comes and sleeps in people’s yard before they put it in the oven:)
    Greetings from the North to the North
    Florian

    • saravk says:

      Thanks Florian, for your comments! I definitely agree with your point about how moose become a symbol for the place, and that also ties into the extensive management of moose by the government. I recently read that there are about 200 to 300 moose who live in Anchorage all year, but that number goes up to 700-1,000 moose in the wintertime! I think I will have to explore this more…warm greetings back from the North to the North

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