ANCHORAGE — State wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott thought locals already knew better than to scratch a moose's ears.
But the latest urban man-beast encounter this summer has him saying the obvious: Don't pet the Big Wild Life. Don't befriend wild moose. Don't scratch their ears. Don't rub their snouts. Don't feel the bristles of their hairs between your fingers.
Sinnott's exasperation followed a petting incident Tuesday night in West Anchorage in which a man walked up to a yearling moose in a park where soccer games are played and began scratching its head like he would a horse, witnesses said.
It wasn't just a quick pat. It went on for about 15 minutes, they said.
"No good can come of this," Sinnott said.
The man, Beau Bodnar, was not doing anything illegal — just not so smart, Sinnott said.
"We can't write citations for stupidity, unfortunately," he said.
Sinnott estimates there are 200 to 300 moose in the Anchorage Bowl during the summer. The danger of befriending one is that the animal will become used to humans. That is, until its wild animal self reappears unexpectedly.
"They can lose it and totally snap and just start kicking," Sinnott said. Moose have powerful legs and can trample a person to death. There was a fatal stomping by a moose in Anchorage in 1995.
David Nicolai was at the park watching an adult soccer game around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when the moose meandered onto the field. The referee ended the game, he said.
At first, said Nicolai, the moose was trying to rub his own snout — against a tree, then unsuccessfully with his gangly back leg. "He was obviously itchy," he said.
That's when Bodnar walked up to the moose with just the netting of a soccer goal between him and it, and reached out his hand. The moose nudged him gently, and Bodnar responded by stroking its snout.
The moose walked around the netting, closer to his benefactor.
At one point, Bodnar, who is in his mid-20s, had the moose's head under his arm, petting it, Nicolai said.
"Everyone thought the guy was freaking crazy," he said. Some people were yelling at him to back off.
Terri Semmler, another witness, said she kept her distance, as most people did. "I see wild animals as wild animals," she said. "We have enough problems with moose and bear in the city that we really need to treat them like wild animals and leave them alone."
Jonathan Fries, who also watched, defended Bodnar his close friend since second grade. After the initial contact it was the moose that was pursing the petting, he said:
"It was aggressive."
Fries said his sister even called 911 to find out what to do.
The moose followed Bodnar as he walked away, then approached others, apparently looking for a new scratcher, Nicolai said.
When reached by phone, Bodnar was in a rush and said he planned to put the whole story on his Web site. He also described the moose as aggressive.
Sinnott thinks someone spoiled the animal before Bodnar showed up, probably feeding it by hand — a really bad thing to do, he said.
Sinnott doesn't plan any action unless he gets complaints from the area. If he finds the animal, and it exhibits a fearless willingness to snuggle up to humans, he will have to kill it, he said.
"We just can't leave a moose like that running amok in the neighborhood."