Moose calf, mother reunited after calf was swept away by fast-moving river in Colorado (with photos and video)

A moose calf walks along the Yampa River Core Trail on Tuesday, June 6, 2023 after getting caught in the swift-moving waters of the Yampa River and separated from its mother and a sibling. Wildlife officers and volunteer animal control officers from the City of Steamboat Springs were able to round off the two-week old calf, capture it and return it to its mother.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A young moose was reunited with its mother and sibling on Tuesday afternoon after a harrowing experience in downtown Steamboat Springs that caught the attention of many people enjoying the Yampa River Core Trail.

Steamboat Springs animal control officers responded to reports of a moose calf that had been swept downriver. The report came from witnesses who said the mother and her two young calves had been startled when a railroad vehicle passed through the area on the nearby tracks.

The young female calf ran into the river and was carried downstream by the swift current.

The calf was able to pull itself out of the water about 300 yards downriver and decided to hide in the tall grass between the riverbank and West Lincoln Park. The calf laid still in the grass as people using the core trail passed by for a long period of time.

The animal control officer found the calf and called Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“I think given the alternatives in this situation and where the calf was relative to hikers, bicycles and dogs and everything, it wasn’t good for her to sit over there and just try to let this naturally occur,” said Kyle Bond, a district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “I think this was the best action we could have taken at this time for the welfare of the calf.”

Upriver, the mother moose and another calf grazed along the riverbank on the opposite side of the Yampa River. The mother did not seem distressed her calf was missing, or she may have decided that it was just too dangerous to venture across the swift-moving waters with the other calf. Either way, she eventually laid down out of sight.

Bond felt the safest alternative was to capture the calf and relocate it to an area closer to the mother. He made the decision while considering the number of people in the area and believing the mother moose was not going to come looking for her missing calf because of the fast-moving water.

“This was a really rare circumstance,” Bond said of wildlife officers needing to capture the young moose. “But in this case, we didn’t have any other options.”

Capturing a moose calf is not easy, and as Bond and other trained volunteers approached the scared animal, it stood up and bolted to escape.

The calf ran across the busy West Lincoln Park and a short distance along the Yampa River Core Trail before electing to go back into the Yampa River. This time, Bond used a catchpole to gather the animal, wrapped it in a blanket and blindfolded to keep it from injuring itself.

The calf was then taken to an area closer to the mother before being released. The reunion was not immediate, but eventually the tired calf stood up and walked over to its mother, who greeted her calf.

“It was important to do this quick,” Bond said. “I feel like once we got to her, everything was quick, seamless and painless. We didn’t have to use any tranquilizers and the calf was not injured — and that’s positive.”

His plan was to observe the calves and their mother for 24-36 hours in hopes that mom would accept the calf back and the family would move out of the area.

“I think for now we’ve got the best outcome we can hope for,” Bond said. “We’ll just monitor to make sure that we don’t have any additional issues and evaluate a couple days from now.”

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