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Moose crashes through ice, drowns in Gatineau River

March 6th,2024 | Environment, News

Chelsea residents who gathered to mark the drowning of a moose in the Gatineau River on Feb. 25 lit candles, read poems and placed a wreath on the ice near the spot where the female moose lost a hard-fought battle against the river’s swift current. Photo courtesy of Tineke Kuijper

Residents who live near the Gatineau River in Chelsea are mourning the loss of a moose who drowned on the afternoon of Feb. 25 in Farm Point. 

During the community’s annual Winter Fun Day, while skiers gathered for hot drinks and snacks near the Cascades Club along the Chelsea trail, a female moose walked out onto the river at a nearby point where there was a mix of thin ice and open water. 

River Road resident Diane Lemire told the Low Down that, when she became aware of the moose’s struggle in the river, she ran from the Cascades Club area and watched helplessly for about 10 minutes as the moose tried desperately to avoid going under a large sheet of ice, but the swift current made it impossible. 

Some people attempted to break up the ice further down the river in order to help free the moose from her position, trapped between the current and the ice sheet, but they weren’t able to do so in time: the moose slipped beneath the ice and never resurfaced. 

“I’ve never felt so powerless in my life,” said Lemire. 

“[The moose] was scared, she was panicking and I guess she was probably cold…I didn’t want to see her go under the ice, so I left. I couldn’t stand to see an animal suffer like that,” Lemire explained. “Some of the people who stayed said that she got tired, and she just couldn’t keep going.”

A touching farewell 

One week after the moose’s drowning, a small group of residents gathered at the bank of the river to hold a ceremony in honour of her. 

Lemire said that she created a wreath, and those assembled wrote messages on pieces of biodegradable onion paper. A couple of poems were read, candles were lit and the wreath and messages were placed on some river ice near the spot where the moose lost her life. 

“When a person dies, we grieve,” Lemire said. “But it makes sense to want to grieve for animals too. We are not separate from the animal kingdom. Sometimes we forget that.”

She added that wildlife is a part of day-to-day life in most of Chelsea, pointing out that local foxes and ducks and otters are like members of the community for many people.  

“We celebrate people who die, but we can also celebrate and honour animals in that way too,” Lemire said. 

Moose sightings rare

Moose are fairly uncommon in the Hills. Lemire explained that in the 25 years she’s been living in Chelsea and regularly running or skiing through the Gatineau Park, this is only the second time she has ever seen a moose. Recently, however, some visitors to Chelsea’s Meech Creek Valley had a rare – and close –  encounter with a moose. 

A short video shared by a skier on social media the same day as the drowning shows a large female moose trotting along the trail near P16 behind a skate-skier. 

And at least a few residents have shared their sightings of a moose near Masham on local community Facebook pages. 

It’s difficult to say with certainty if any of these sightings are the same moose that drowned on Feb. 25. 

Chelsea-based biologist, Carl Savignac, founder of the conservation consultancy organization Dendroica Environnement et Faune, told the Low Down that it’s possible the same moose seen running along the trail near the Meech Creek could be the one that ended up in the river. 

That’s because, in his estimation, there are likely only two to five moose in all of the Gatineau Park at any time.

A spokesperson for the NCC confirmed that while “it’s not unusual to see [moose] in the park…the number of sightings is low, suggesting that the Park does not contain sufficient habitat to support a sizeable population.”

Savignac said that there is no way to know for sure why the moose got into the river, but he speculated she might have been escaping predators. 

He wondered if coywolves, which are a hybrid species descended from coyotes, eastern wolves, grey wolves and dogs, might have been hunting the moose, causing her to flee the park across Hwy 5 and into the river.

He added that alternatively, “it might have just been time for that moose to disperse and find another place with better food, and it was just bad luck that the mild winter we have right now makes rivers and creeks more dangerous for animals to cross.”

Savignac explained that moose are able to swim and generally spend a lot of time around water. 

“They do like to cross the river… but they usually wait for the ice to be thick enough [to cross],” he said. 

“In the case of this moose, the river melted three times or so this winter and the ice stayed very thin.”

Ways to help

Savignac told the Low Down that increasing human development certainly does put pressure on many animal species in the area, including moose.

To mitigate this, he said he encourages residents to consider donating to land trusts like Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment (ACRE), which purchase and protect land in order to preserve natural habitats as well as ecological corridors surrounding Gatineau Park.

“Creating more habitats is good, and if you’re able to connect those natural habitats to one another with corridors, that’s great,” Savignac explained. 

He added, however, that ecological corridors that link areas like Gatineau Park to either the Gatineau or Ottawa River sometimes direct animals toward dense residential areas, since the shoreline of both rivers tends to be quite populated.

Savignac also recommends that residents track and record their sightings of moose and other wildlife using an app called iNaturalist. 

The data collected on iNaturalist is used to help conservationists and scientists understand the biodiversity in regions all around the world.

Anyone who has seen a moose in the Chelsea, Wakefield or Masham area in the last couple of weeks is invited to send their account and photos to  madeline@lowdownonline.com. 

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