A moose calf was found near the bodies of its mother and sibling at the West Boulder Campground in Montana. The calf was later put down by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. (Courtesy of Josh Hohm via Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

For Josh Hohm, Memorial Day began with all of the magic of a Disney movie, featuring a new animal friend and an unexpected adventure.

Thanks to some Montana park rangers, however, it ended up a snuff film.

Hohm decided to spend the holiday at the West Boulder Campground in the Gallatin National Forest — near Yellowstone National Park. He drove from his home in Bozeman to the campground and was walking around the woodland when suddenly he saw something move toward him. It was a baby moose, or calf, barely old enough to walk.

Like any Montanan, Hohm knew the calf’s mother couldn’t be far away. But instead of finding a moose cow charging at him in maternal rage, he discovered her dead body on the ground next to that of a stillborn calf. The surviving moose baby was on his own.

At least until Hohm arrived. When it saw the human, the moose calf came running. It bleated and cried in despair over its dead mother. So when the curly haired, wobbly kneed calf tried to nuzzle with Hohm, he let it happen. Hohm even hugged the little guy, snapping a selfie showing man and beast framed against a sunny backdrop.

It was a precious moment of interspecies sympathy: something worthy of “Free Willy,” “Flipper” or “The Jungle Book.”

But things turned tragic in no time.

It started with Hohm’s good intentions. He knew the calf didn’t have much of a chance on its own, so he called the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Service.

“Clearly I’m not going to leave the little guy there,” Hohm told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Hohm didn’t know it, but the calf would have had a better chance being left alone. That’s because Montana’s FWP doesn’t save moose calves. It detonates them.

As soon as Hohm headed home, FWP agents shot the last moose standing. Then U.S. Forest Service officials put the carcass alongside its mother and twin, and blew them all Big Sky high.

“It’s just unbelievable to me that that’s how things are handled,” Hohm told the Daily Chronicle. “It just sounds incredibly wrong.”

But FWP spokesman Andrea Jones said snuffing out the sweet little animal was standard operating procedure in Montana.

“We don’t move or rehabilitate moose,” she said. While Montana FWP does occasionally rehabilitate bears or birds of prey, it won’t take in moose, elk or deer for fear of infection. “They can carry chronic wasting disease which can be very devastating to populations; it’s also very dangerous to humans,” Jones told local TV station KXLH.

As for shooting the calf survivor, Jones said it was more of a mercy killing than a moose massacre. “This animal was dispatched, but it would have been euthanized if it had been taken to our office, it would have starved to death without its mother,” she said. The dead animals were then dynamited so that they wouldn’t draw grizzly bears to the campground, Jones added, and because it simply wasn’t possible to bring in the heavy equipment required to remove the carcasses.

Hohm says it’s not the dynamite that disturbs him. It’s the decision to kill the calf. When he left the animal with the park rangers, he thought they were going to help it. Not blow Bambi to smithereens.

“I don’t have a problem with the disposal, that’s how it’s done,” he said. “There were absolutely no steps taken to determine if it was sick, was it going to feed, were there facilities and resources available to care for this thing.”

“Right. Just kill it now. Don’t even try to help it,” reads a sarcastic comment on KXLH’s Web site. “That’s real humane.”

But as another commenter pointed out, FWP officials would have had to bring moose milk, or colostrum, to the calf shortly after finding it in order for the creature to have had a fighting chance.

“Without colostrum from its mother, it will get sick and die,” wrote Robert Lebahn. “Period. That’s how cloven-hoofed four legged critters work. It’s just reality. Sheep, goats, mountain sheep, deer, elk, moose… llama, camel, giraffe… Cloven hoofed critters must have colostrum within a short time after birth or their chances of survival plummet with every passing hour. … Farmers harvest colostrum from sheep, goats, cows etc so they can save a lamb, kid, or calf whose mother dies or can’t produce milk. They usually freeze it and it doesn’t keep all that long because of the high fat content. … Where would FWP get moose colostrum? How would they keep a supply? …. They *did* help that poor little critter by putting it out of its misery. When responsible for animals of any sort, sometimes the right, good, and humane thing to do can be ending their misery. It’s always sad when that’s the case… but none the less, right.”

Hohm, however, was dismayed by what seemed like laziness from state and federal officials.

“These guys are on our payroll to oversee the protection and well being of these animals and this is how we ‘manage wildlife’?” he said. “It’s quite disheartening.”

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