Driving the Seward Highway into Anchorage, Alaska, the scenery is majestic and awe-inspiring, with the strength and beauty of the mountains and trees softened by the Gulf of Alaska lapping at the edges of the highway. The view is not always serene, however. The traffic along the highway, at its peak during the months of April-June, is also the scene of wildlife-related accidents. Between 500-700 moose are killed on Alaska highways every year, many of them leaving orphaned moose calves behind.
The day can start like any other. However, when Dana gets a call that a moose calf, sometimes twins, just lost its mama and is in need of rescue, the day’s priorities quickly change. Usually the call comes from the public. Grabbing an intern, because they never go alone, Dana will handle prepping for the rescue, giving the Fish and Game a heads up, and off into the Alaskan wilds at a moment’s notice.
Running Moose Mamas Rescue is a full-time job for Dana Dunn DeBernardi, Class of 1994. The Rescue is a non-profit and Dana (pronounced DAN-a) runs it while supporting her three children. It is quite a commitment, though one she seems to have come by honestly. Growing up, Dana was constantly exposed to nature, hunting, fishing, and her family is “really, really into conservation.” Throughout her childhood, her parents, grandparents, and uncles would talk about elk, moose, the local wildlife population, and conservation. Her uncle worked hard to re- establish the wild turkey population.
Dana was also taught that if something is broke, you fix it. The moose population in Alaska was drastically declining geographically. The orphaned calves most often died when they lost their mothers to vehicle accidents. So Dana took action. She went through miles of red tape, secured her permits, and founded Moose Mamas Rescue.
Caring for a moose calf is intense. Sometimes the calf is 2 days old and only 35 lbs. Or they could be 2 months old and they’re 200 lbs. April through June is the busiest time of year, due to the influx of tourists and traffic. As the only release program in the state, these months can be extremely busy with as many as 10 calves at a time. A group of 5-6 interns stay with Dana over the summer.
Because moose aren’t grazers, but browsers, Dana has to gather tree limbs to hang around the pen to provide food in addition to the formula. An adult male will eat about 60-70 lbs. a day so one calf can eat up 50 lbs. Moose calves grow very fast, up to 5% of their own body weight a day, so they need a constant source of nutrients. Formula for the little calves is the program’s biggest expense. A schedule, complete with alerts and alarms, is set up to make sure each calf gets their 8 feedings a day.
Moose Mamas Rescue keeps the calves for about three to four months. By the time the calves are big enough to be on their own, they are about 350- 400 lbs. Dana and her interns tranquilize the moose, fly them across the inlet, find a remote lake, land on the lake, and then put them in a temporary pen.
Before the moose are released, they are fitted with collars. They say a prayer over each moose and then let them go. The moose are affixed with a collar to help provide statistics for research on the population. The collars are specially designed to expand with their necks for about 12-15 months, until the collar falls off.
From the beginning, Dana felt like her involvement with Moose Mamas was a God thing. Many days have dawned where there weren’t enough resources to continue the rescue and support her family, or where just the volume of work was daunting for one woman and 3 months of interns. Dana says that God always provides, He always comes through. Now the program is growing, with new opportunities presenting themselves.
One of the opportunities includes teaching conservation and responsibility to local elementary students. The students collect water bottles for the Rescue to use in feeding the calves. The bottles are then double- recycled. Another huge blessing came when three of her interns dedicated their lives to Christ this summer. Two of them were atheist and they’ve all gone home to share their experience with their families.
“I feel like God is working on a bigger picture with this project,” Dana explains. “The path is being shifted to connect the program with people who need help, giving them a chance to interact with animals. The human to animal connection is amazing. We’re praying hard over these opportunities.”
Moose Mamas Rescue is getting ready to release the eight calves raised this summer. Learn more about Moose Mamas at moosemamas.org.
Director of Alumni & Development