A moose on the loose: Combat shopping in an Anchorage Costco parking lot

a woman points her finger at a moose
A shopper caught the moose in action, trying to steal a sack of sweet potatoes, as Amber Rotar shakes her finger at it. The caption on Facebook says, “Only in Alaska will you see mamas cussing out a moose.” (Screenshot)

Human interactions with moose have become more common in the Anchorage Bowl, as deep snow pushes them out of the woods and into places where it’s easier to find food — and also, where there are more people, like at the Costco store in East Anchorage on Saturday.

First, this story comes with a warning: Although this is a light-hearted take on a familiar theme in Anchorage, it’s never a good idea to feed a moose, get too close or lose sight of the fact that they can be dangerous. But that said, when there’s a moose at large in a Costco parking lot, life can get pretty interesting.

Some might be reminded of a song about Morris, an Anchorage misfit munchin’ moose — immortalized in song by Mike Campbell, a deep-voiced balladeer. Campbell’s other claim to fame is that he calibrated the scales at the Alaska State Fair, including the one used for the giant pumpkin weigh off. So maybe writing larger-than-life songs comes naturally.

The chorus to his song goes like this:
Morris the misfit munchin’ moose
His tummy is empty, and his brains are loose.
He eats all day.
He don’t like hay.
He’s Morris the misfit munchin’ moose.
Uh oom baba doom. Baba doom. Baba doom.
Buh doop doop boom boom, boom.

The vocals are sung with a very foreboding sound.

The song goes on to talk about how Morris turned to a life of crime stealing Twinkies and Tootsie Rolls.

Sometime before the Costco store on DeBarr opened on Saturday morning, it looked like Morris was up to his old tricks. Like the rest of the shoppers, he was out to score a Super Bowl smorgasbord.

a moose stands near cars
Some Costco staffers were re-assigned as moose wranglers. (Rhonda McBride/KNBA)

Amber Rotar, who owns a meal-prep business, was one of his first targets. He caught sight of her Costco cart, just as she loaded groceries into the back of her car. Rotar later posted a video of the encounter on Facebook.

“Scooch,” she can be heard scolding the moose. “I’ll give you the sweet potatoes.”

Luckily the moose gave up on trying to steal her potatoes out from under a bag of brown rice.

“No ears back, buddy. Just scooch,” she said to the moose, maintaining her firm tone of voice.

Rotar comes to Costco every Saturday to buy produce for her business. She said when the moose showed too much interest in her bell peppers, she realized there was nothing she could do but wait for the moose to sniff and be done, so she grabbed some video on her cell phone. Just a few seconds.

She said people later asked her why she didn’t shoot more footage.

“No, I didn’t think that would be a wise thing for me to do,” Rotar said. “I should probably not pay attention to my phone and a large animal that’s larger than I am.”

Only a shopping cart separated Rotar and the moose, but a nearby tree caught his interest, so she could make her getaway. Rotar said It was third time in a week she had crossed paths with a moose — once at her son’s school and the Saturday before that, at Costco.

a moose eats some shrubs
The dividers islands in parking lots like Costco’s give moose easy access to trees and shrubs. (Rhonda McBride/KNBA)

The moose wasn’t quite ready yet to leave. As one Costco worker put it, he was out to browse the store’s entire “outdoor produce section.” And the moose found quite a buffet as he went from divider to divider in the parking lot, stretching its neck past the deep snow, to nibble on the berries that clung to the branches of small trees.

At one point, the moose took a nap near the tire center, but by late afternoon Costco staffers were back to wrangling moose, including the store manager, Allen Arnold.

“Not generally part of my job description,” said Arnold. “But today, you’ve got to adapt and overcome. He was quite friendly.”

There was a potential for trouble, moments when the moose got trapped in traffic. Arnold had several staffer direct drivers to move out of the way.

“Just trying to keep people away so nobody got hurt,” Arnold said, but it wasn’t easy. Pedestrians weaved in and out of the car, intent to commence with their shopping and oblivious to the moose, despite the warnings.

a man and a moose on the side of a road
The DeBarr Costco Store manager, Allen Arnold, headed up the store’s ad hoc moose wrangling posse, who with shovels in hand, kept a watchful distance. (Rhonda McBride/KNBA)

When the moose finally had a clear path, it moved at a pretty fast clip, only to create another potential combat-shopping, traffic jam.

It wasn’t until early evening that the moose was ready to move on, and as of Tuesday, Arnold said, it hasn’t been seen since.

“Give him respect, and he’ll give you respect, I think,” Arnold said laughing.

It’s not clear if this was a “Morris the misfit munching moose” sighting at Costco. There are many other moose on the loose at this time of the year.

Mike Campbell, who often performed his song about Morris at the Anchorage Folk Festival, said it was by inspired a chance encounter with a moose, as he came around a bend on the Glenn Highway — and there to his wondering eyes was a moose with a Burger King bag in its muzzle.

True story, so he says.

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