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HomeTechnology & ScienceB.C. man fired from job after saving moose calf on the highway

B.C. man fired from job after saving moose calf on the highway

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“Her and I kind of bonded on the ride home. I mean, shucks, we had, like, 5½ hours in the pickup truck together.”

It’s always nice to have company on a long road trip — and in this case, a Fort Nelson, B.C., man says he found himself the unexpected companion of a moose calf, who willingly hopped into the passenger seat of his truck to escape the jaws of a waiting black bear.

But Mark Skage said he was fired for the act. His employer, AFD Petroleum Inc., let him go for breaking wildlife protocols.

Skage told CBC News he was travelling north of Fort Nelson when he noticed the calf alone on the side of the road, with no mother in sight. After the calf almost got hit by a few cars, he decided to pull up to try to scare her off the side of the highway.

WATCH | Skage says he drove the moose calf to safety: 

#TheMoment a B.C. man saved a moose calf from a waiting bear

Mark Skage was driving near Fort Nelson, B.C., when he saw a black bear approaching a moose calf, so he wrangled the moose into his truck and drove it five hours to safety.

As he opened the car door, however, the calf trotted over and started trying to climb into his pickup truck.

“After the second time she tried to get in, I looked up across the road, I just happened to glance over there — and halfway across the ditch, maybe like 50 yards, there was a black bear standing there,” Skage said.

“I just couldn’t do it, in my heart. People can say all they want. I know as outdoorsmen, we talk about predator control. … Black bears are the No. 1 predator for those calves. So I just thought, ‘Well, I can’t take care of the predator, but I guess maybe I can try and help out this little calf.'”

In areas of the north where grizzly bears are uncommon, black bears have been known to kill up to 40 per cent of moose calves, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A baby moose looks out the window from the passenger side of a truck.
Mark Skage says he rescued the baby moose, seen here looking out the truck window, from a bear. (Submitted by Mark Skage)

After waiting for a while to see if the calf’s mother would appear to scare away the bear, Skage decided to take the moose with him — calling the B.C. Conservation Officer Service on the way to find a place for the calf to stay.

Several days later, the calf was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.

Skage said often the right call in situations like this is to let nature run its course. But in this case, he made a judgment call to help the calf, and he felt it was the right one — especially given that he later found out the calf is a female.

“It wasn’t just one moose calf that God saved. It was a whole bunch … She’s gonna grow up and have lots of babies, and her babies will have babies. I think it’s a positive. I believe that in my heart.”

Company disputes driver’s account

AFD Petroleum, however, felt differently.

The company said in a statement that it’s aware of videos on social media showing the incident, and it’s working with provincial authorities and will provide them with any information they may require.

AFD said Skage’s actions breached the company’s protocols around interactions with wildlife.

“Instead of reporting the situation to a conservation officer and allowing the authorities to handle the rescue and relocation of the moose, the individual made the independent decision to transport an uninjured moose calf, a wild animal, in the front seat of his company vehicle for many hours,” AFD president Dale Reimer said in an emailed statement.

“This not only put the employee and other road users at risk but also potentially caused distress and harm to the moose.”

The company also disputed Skage’s version of events, saying in a statement Sunday that two-way footage from the truck showed no evidence of a bear nearby — and said Skage did not appear to have looked for the calf’s mother.

“The only actions which put the animal in danger were those of Mr. Skage. Not only did he put himself and other road users at risk by capturing and transporting this animal but also caused distress and potential harm to the moose, having failed to contact conservation authorities at any point,” Reimer said.

A man with glasses, facial hair, and a wide brimmed hat poses for a selfie with a baby moose.
Mark Skage poses for a photo with the moose calf he rescued near Fort Nelson, B.C. (Submitted by Mark Skage)

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service said it’s investigating the incident. CBC News has requested more information on that investigation.

Skage told CBC News he’s not endorsing anyone else to do what he did — noting that he has some experience with wildlife and has acted as a consultant for several companies, helping them create their own wildlife protocols.

More than that, handling or moving a wild animal from its place is illegal.

“It is against the law to pick up wild animals off the road or from out in nature, anywhere. It is illegal to be in possession of wildlife and transport wildlife,” Skage said.

Skage said he is willing to pay any fines he might be charged for his actions — but in this case, he still believes he was in the right.

‘Do the best you can to move away’

WildSafeBC program manager Lisa Lopez told CBC News that apart from the question of legal repercussions, it can be dangerous to attempt to handle any sort of wildlife.

“These animals are wild animals, you know, we don’t know what kind of reaction they’re going to have, you don’t know what kind of animal is around nearby. Mothers of young are going to be protective of their young,” Lopez said.

“And so it’s always the best idea to do the best you can to move away. Provide space. If you can, keep an eye on the animal and then call the experts in to make sure, but definitely keeping space between yourself and that animal.”

If you come across an animal that you believe may be injured or sick, the B.C. government says there are different agencies to which you should report the incident, depending on the type of wildlife. It can be dangerous to touch or handle sick, injured, or dead animals. 

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