By Michelle Theriault Boots Anchorage Daily News
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Petting a moose had been something of a goal for Chantelle Hernandez, she said, since she moved to Anchorage last September to join her husband, who’s in the Air Force here.
Hernandez is from Miami, where she says alligators are common and owning a pet tiger is not unheard of. Moose, on the other hand, are very uncommon.
On Sunday, she got her wish.
What Hernandez, 24, didn’t count on was someone making a video of her and the moose, which went viral online, and prompted condemnation by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as well as strangers who have called her crazy in Facebook messages, and even her grandmother, who called from Florida to yell at her in Spanish.
Hernandez and her husband were parking at their downtown Anchorage apartment complex when she noticed an adult moose bedded down in the snow outside a ground-floor apartment. She told her husband she was going to try to pet it.
“He wanted nothing to do with it,” she said. “He thought I was going to get my head kicked in.”
Hernandez said she walked over to the moose, checking out its body language before approaching. She touched the animal on the top of its nose, which felt rough, like touching a horse, she said. Then the moose got up and walked away.
Meanwhile, Jason Blake and his 2-year-old son were watching from the window of their apartment.
“We’re like three feet away from it,” said Blake, who works for adn.com, the Anchorage Daily News’ website.
He started video recording Hernandez as she walked up to the moose.
“I start thinking to myself,” Blake said, “what do I do if this thing stomps on her? I have my kid with me. I’m concerned with what he would see. And how would I help her?”
On Monday, Blake posted his video to YouTube and shared it with his Facebook friends. As of Thursday noon, the video had more than 15,700 YouTube views.
Gino Del Frate of the Department of Fish and Game says Hernandez was lucky.
“It could easily have been a moose that was less tolerant,” he said. “People don’t understand how fast and hard a moose can kick.”
By the end of winter, moose are stressed by lack of food and living in urban environments. Touching just stresses them more, Del Frate said. Hernandez easily could have been kicked or stomped, he said.
Last March, a moose kicked a woman in downtown Anchorage after she reportedly tried to pet it.
Hernandez said she didn’t realize anyone was recording her and isn’t thrilled to be described on YouTube as a “crazy lady trying to pet a wild moose in Alaska.”
Hernandez said she’s a lifelong animal lover — her father breeds geckos — and has touched alligators and pythons in zoo environments.
Jessy Coltrane, an area biologist with Fish and Game, spends a lot of time dealing with unpleasant interactions between humans and wildlife in Anchorage. She described Hernandez’ actions as irresponsible and dangerous.
And touching a moose is considered wildlife harassment, a crime under state law.
“For Pete’s sake,” Coltrane said. “Just don’t pet the moose.”