She is tough and resilient and as beautiful as an integral piece of the Northwest landscape. So it’s not surprising that members of the public picked "Willow" as the name for Northwest Trek Wildlife Park’s 7-week-old moose calf.
Willow is the first moose born at the 725-acre wildlife park near Eatonville, Washington, in 15 years, and she arrived as a very special delivery on July 17 – Northwest Trek’s 40th birthday.
Staff members nominated three Northwest-themed names for the calf: Willow, Lily and Aspen. The public chose Willow through voting in an online survey over the last month.
Willow’s mother, Connie, was named in honor of Northwest Trek co-founder Connie Hellyer. Her father, Ellis, was named in memory of Dave Ellis, a longtime deputy director of the wildlife park.
One other adult moose, Nancy, also wanders the 435-acre Free-Roaming Area at Northwest Trek. The moose are often visible to members of the public as visitors ride trams for a narrated tour of the forests and meadows.
Anyone visiting Northwest Trek is up for a possible peek at the moose family, as well as up-close views of other animals in the Free-Roaming Area, which is home to American bison, Roosevelt elk, deer, and bighorn sheep. And, of course, there also are black and grizzly bears, gray wolves, foxes, Canada lynx, bobcats, coyotes, a cougar, beavers, a river otter, fishers, badgers, skunks, raccoons, owls and other animals in natural exhibits along paved pathways in the main area of the wildlife park.
In the Free-Roaming Area, Willow continues to thrive, Northwest Trek Deputy Director Alan Varsik said, “She is still nursing and also sampling browse, such as willow and maple cuttings, and she’s starting to show a little more independence,” he said. “Connie is taking the occasional time out, where she leaves Willow for a brief period of time. Under the watchful eye of Connie, Willow has also had positive encounters with our other moose.”
The moose (alces alces) is the largest extant species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males. They typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. Unlike most other deer species, moose prefer to be solitary and do not form herds.
Although generally slow-moving and sedentary, moose can become aggressive and move surprisingly quickly if angered or startled. Their mating season in the autumn can lead to spectacular fights between rivaling males.
The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit. Much of a moose’s energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of forbs and other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch.
Moose lack upper front teeth, but they have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in the eating of woody vegetation. A moose’s upper lip is also very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs. Their lip is also prehensile, for grasping their food.
Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade in search of aquatic plants. Moose are known to dive underwater, as well, to reach plants on lake bottoms. Their complex snout allows such a feat; it is equipped with fatty pads and muscles that close the nostrils when exposed to water pressure.
Although moose rarely gather in groups, there may be several in close proximity during the mating season (September and October). Females have an eight-month gestation period, usually bearing one calf. Newborn moose have fur with a reddish hue, which is a contrast to the brown appearance of an adult. The young will stay with the mother until just before the next young are born. The life span of an average moose is about 15-25 years.
Since the 1990s, moose populations have declined dramatically in much of temperate North America, although they remain stable in arctic and subarctic regions. The exact cause of die-off is not determined, but appears to be a combination of factors, including a change in habitat and heat stress caused by global warming, poaching, the reintroduction of wolves, and the northward migration of warmer-weather parasites to which moose have not developed a natural defense, such as liver flukes, brain worms, and winter tick infestations. The moose is currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.