Long road trips just hit different when you’ve got someone riding shotgun. But one Canadian oil worker caught major flak from his employer after picking up an unusual hitchhiker — a baby moose.
On June 6, Mark Skage of British Columbia was traveling north of Fort Nelson for work when he spotted a moose calf alone on the side of the road.
With no mama moose in sight and several vehicles nearly hitting the baby moose, Skage decided to step out and try to scare it off the highway and back into the woods.
But when he opened the door, the animal made a beeline for his truck and tried to hop in.
“After the second time she tried to get in, I looked up across the road. I just happened to glance over there — and halfway across the ditch, maybe like 50 yards, there was a black bear standing there,” Skage said.
“I thought, ‘Oh, shit.’”
“I just couldn’t do it, in my heart. People can say all they want. As outdoorsmen, we talk about predator control,” Skage explained. “Black bears are the number one predator for those calves. So I just thought, ‘Well, I can’t take care of the predator, but I guess maybe I can try and help out this little calf.'”
So Skage herded the moose he later dubbed Misty around to the passenger side of his truck and started chucking stuff around in the cab to make room for his new ride-or-die.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, black bears kill about 40% of moose calves in northern areas where black bears and grizzlies share habitats.
“I’ll admit I didn’t sit there for half an hour going over every scenario of who I would upset,” Skage said. “I just went, ‘You came for help; I’ve got to give you help.’”
Some internet commenters were surprised to discover that Skage is also an avid moose hunter and the host of the Canadian-produced hunting show Start Em Young. However, love and respect for the animals they hunt is something most outdoorsmen understand on a marrow-deep level. Hunters often save game animals from some pretty dangerous and precarious situations.
With his new friend Misty the Moose perched in his passenger seat, Skage hit the road, calling the B.C. Conservation Officer Service as soon as he had cell service.
“[Misty] was happy as a clam and pretty glad she wasn’t still standing outside with him,” Skage said. “Her and I kind of bonded, though. What else are you going to do? You’re in my truck, so I’m going to talk to you.”
A few days later, on June 7, Misty was transported to Rimrock Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Dawson Creek. She’s now living high on the hog and hobnobbing with other ungulates on the center’s 400-acre property.
“She’s fitting in well here. She shouldn’t have a problem being rehabbed,” said Jason Harvey of Rimrock Wildlife. “We’re giving her the best chance she has to be released.”
Nature is cruel in a way The Lion King’s banging musical soundtrack totally missed. And while Skage may have saved Misty the Moose from being ripped apart and possibly eaten alive (bears are known to pin elk calves to the ground and begin munching before the baby is dead), he also deprived the bear of a good meal.
Whether Skage is a hero or a villain depends on whether you’re the moose or the bear. Skage interrupted “The Circle of Life,” about which Elton John so eloquently crooned;, only in real life, it’s a lot more brutal and bloody than is probably acceptable for a kids’ movie.
However, the deed set the internet on fire faster than smoke from a Canadian wildfire can blanket the U.S. Most of the over 800 comments on Skage’s Facebook post support and praise his moose rescue.
“On behalf of sweet Misty, thank you for your kindness. She needed help, and you were there for her,” one commenter said.
“Thank you for saving this little girl! You are a hero!” exclaimed another.
However, Skage’s employer, AFD Petroleum Inc., saw things differently. They claim Skage’s actions were “in grievous conflict with their wildlife policies.”
“The individual made the independent decision to transport an uninjured moose calf, a wild animal, in the front seat of his company vehicle for many hours,” AFD president Dale Reimer said in an emailed statement.
“This not only put the employee and other road users at risk but also potentially caused distress and harm to the moose.”
AFD also disputed Skage’s story of what happened on that roadside encounter, claiming there was no evidence of a bear in the truck’s two-way video footage and that he didn’t sufficiently search for the calf’s mother before hitting the road to find a safe, bear-free spot away from the highway.
“We take our obligation to wildlife and to our natural environment extremely seriously. The only actions [that] put the animal in danger were those of Mr. Skage,” Reimer said.
The morality of Misty’s rescue may still be up for debate, but the legality is not. Transporting wildlife is illegal in British Columbia.
“It is against the law to pick up wild animals off the road or from out in nature, anywhere. It is illegal to be in possession of wildlife and transport wildlife,” Skage said.
Skage also says he’s willing to pay whatever fines authorities may toss his way, although he still believes he did the right thing.