“Fancy” is a formidable creature, affectionately named by the locals. She received an accidental gift last summer; a gift that would make her famous throughout the state of Idaho. I made her acquaintance in the briefest of moments in my sister-in-law’s front yard as she searched for water in this very dry climate.

A female moose is not that exciting to look at — with their elongated bulbous snouts that dominate their small eyes and ears — compared to her male counterparts, which display enormous, open-handed shaped antlers. These extraordinary solitary creatures live amongst the very forests they share with their cousins, the deer.

A week after we arrived in this great state, a year after Fancy’s first famous sighting, we were quietly alerted to the presence of the mammoth animal in our front yard. I saw Fancy and her two thirsty calves cautiously approach the troughs of water provided by my tender hearted relative to encourage their visits and aid in their survival through summer.

It was then I was told of her unusual jewelry. It appeared to be a plastic ring, a necklace almost, around her neck. A very strange sight – unbelievable in fact. One because I was seeing a moose for the first time and secondly because of the strange object around her neck. They did not stay long enough for me to record this historic occasion, but it was then that I learned of the rest of the story of Fancy, the Idaho moose with the bling.

Her new necklace had alarmed many of the residents in rural Idaho and reports came flooding into Idaho Fish and Game. My sister-in-law was one of the first to be able to get close enough to see what the unusual addition to her neck was. It was a plastic ring from the top of a 55-gallon drum and not a tracking collar.

After she reported it, a news crew appeared on the town’s doorstep, eager to do a story on Fancy. She had captured everyone’s heart in this community and so many were concerned about her well-being. Residents were worried that the ring would inhibit her from eating. It was later revealed that she had accidentally come away with the unwanted accessory as she lowered her head into a barrel of water to quench her thirst in this dry and arid climate, thus becoming Fancy’s new bling, as the Idaho Fish and Game called it.

Initial concerns were that she might choke or be unable to feed on the aquatic vegetation and forest shrubbery so essential for their diet. Unfortunately, the wildlife organization had yet another concern.

Biologists with the organization stated that removing her necklace could kill her, as she would require exceptionally large amounts of tranquilizer. In addition, officers would have to get within 30 yards of her to accomplish this task, endangering their lives as well. The decision was to not take any action now as it appeared that she was eating well and healthy. They asked the community to continue to watch her for any changes. If her new choker was not inhibiting her ability to eat, then they were going to leave well enough alone.

What was not mentioned on the news but was shared with my moose loving relative was that Idaho Fish and Game officials were afraid that the male moose would find her unattractive; fearful of her bling, they would not mate with her. It was with great joy that my sister-in-law, Jennifer, called the Idaho Fish and Game back to report the sighting of Fancy and her two wobbly-legged calves at her side. Great news for the community as well.

As an aside: The population of the American moose has experienced a slow been decline since the 1990s. This is attributed to several environmental issues, according to wildlife biologists. The biggest factor is the encroachment of man and growing communities, opening roads and building homes into the northern range of the moose. Also, deer have moved into the same areas and brought with them, once unfamiliar pathogens to moose, the brain worm, liver fluke and the winter tick. It is believed that these parasites have contributed to the decline, as heavily infested moose will rub their fur down to raw skin to rid themselves of their new visitors. With no fur left, they die from hypothermia after losing their winter coats.

Another issue that is accelerating the advance of these parasites is warmer winters that induce favorable conditions for the growth of these tiny predators. The warmer weather also can stress a moose as they reduce their food intake during warmer weather, and they cannot calf without necessary weight gain further lowering their numbers.

Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict. Betty Schaaf’s email is bettyannschaaf@gmail.com.

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