Islanders play matchmaker for lovelorn moose Prospective mate flown in for Belle

November 03, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

WABANA, Newfoundland -- The amorous meanderings of Belle, the lovesick bull moose of Bell Island, may remain unrequited despite the recent arrival of a young female moose with a similar penchant for swimming.

For years, Belle has been looking for love in all the wrong places, and islanders have grown used to the sight of their only moose either chasing cows or resting in a meadow contentedly, if incongruously, surrounded by a cow harem.

"He thinks he's a bloody cow. Now he's resigned himself to just being friends," joked Kay Coxworthy, 49, who saw Belle swim ashore years ago. "He's so tame. He never runs from humans. People on the island are very fond of Belle."

Now Newfoundland wildlife officials have fixed Belle up with a permanent companion who was captured this summer after jumping into the harbor in nearby St. John's. Belle arrived here a decade ago by swimming three miles of ocean, while his moose blind date was delivered by helicopter.

Unfortunately, now that it's rutting season, Belle is still hanging out with the cows in a pasture by the airport. Islanders are crossing their fingers in hopes he will turn his proclivity for pestering cows into romance with Miss Right, but they have not been seen together yet. Wildlife officers have their doubts.

This small but spectacular cliff-rimmed island in Conception Bay is one of the few places left in wind-swept Newfoundland where the rapidly multiplying moose population is neither a problem nor a hazard.

Across Newfoundland, the Canadian province that is also part island, there is nearly one moose for every three people, and the two species are increasingly getting in one another's way -- sometimes with tragic consequences.

Newfoundland's population of well over 500,000 people, with 35,000 vehicles, must share the province with between 120,000 and 160,000 moose that roam the wilds, dart across highways and increasingly wander into the cities.

Hundreds of auto accidents involving collisions with moose occur every year. Four motorists died in each of the last two years because moose, whose huge bodies often pivot through the windshield on impact.

"It's very traumatic to have a live animal the size of a horse come through your windshield into your car," said Bas Oosenbrug, moose biologist for the province.

"So people in Newfoundland are very wary of hitting a moose."

Last year, the province issued a pamphlet entitled, "When you drive at NIGHT, think MOOSE!" It details the hazardous parts of the Trans Canada Highway in Newfoundland, now marked by moose warning signs, where the risk of hitting moose is highest from May to October.

More than 90 percent of the accidents occur between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., when moose come out to feed on the road salt that collects in nearby vegetation or to escape the flies.

One poster sold here by Terra Nova Trivia Inc. of St. John's pictures a moose sticking his nose out on the road in front of a stopped family car under the caption: "Speedbump."

"Since their successful introduction to Newfoundland in 1904," the poster reads, "the moose population has grown to the extent of becoming hazardous to motorists. Please do not let an 1,800-pound moose make an impression on your vehicle."

The same day wildlife officers captured Belle's prospective mate, another female moose was captured after she stuck her nose through the automatic doors of an all night supermarket in St. John's.

"It happened about 3:30 in the morning one day in July. We have a sensor-operated door and as the moose approached outside, it must have triggered the doors, and she poked her head in," said Danny Kavanagh, 36, manager of Sobeys Food Village.

The moose was cornered and set free outside town, but she was killed crossing a highway a few weeks ago, said Bill Collins, a Newfoundland wildlife management officer.

Mr. Collins helped catch the other female moose in St. John's that was transported to Belle Island, where excited residents held a contest to name Belle's mate. The winning entry: "Anabaw," which is the name of the town, Wabana, spelled backward. Belle got his name when islanders mistook him for a female, but the name stuck.

By human standards, 11-year-old Belle is the equivalent of a man in his late 40s while Anabaw, a yearling, would be equivalent to a woman in her late teens or early 20s. Whether they find true love may remain a mystery until springtime, when islanders learn if Anabaw has a calf.

But as Jim Walsh, a member of the Newfoundland Legislature, is said to have put it when he rose to argue that the province give Belle a mate, "Every creature on God's Earth deserves to be successful at least one time in his life."

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