Weep, Anchorage; Buzzwinkle is no more
City-loving moose brought low by wound, bad teeth
By JAMES HALPIN
The downtown moose with an affinity for fermented crab apples and Christmas lights is dead.
Anchorage-area wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott killed the aging bull moose known as Buzzwinkle with a shotgun blast after finding him lying in a lot behind Anchorage Printing in Spenard, severely emaciated and unable to get up.
The moose was at least 13 years old -- a senior citizen by moose standards -- with badly worn teeth and an infected wound on his rump, both of which contributed to his demise, said Sinnott, who works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"He was really on his death bed over there," he said. "It was just a matter of time. If he were any other moose, I probably would have shot him sooner. ... He had a good life, other than getting tangled in Christmas lights from time to time."
The beginning of the end came in February, when Buzzwinkle was spotted near Ship Creek munching on twigs. He had a football-sized lump on his left hindquarter. Initially, it appeared the old bull might have been hit by a car, but Sinnott suspects an arrow might have been responsible for the puncture-wound injury.
The hip appeared to have healed by the time biologists caught up with him last Thursday, Sinnott said. But a post-mortem check of the moose revealed a large abscess under the surface, which likely slowed him down and hindered his ability to browse for food, Sinnott said.
The even-tempered moose has popped up sporadically over the years, but it wasn't until he got his antlers tangled in a rope swing in a Turnagain Parkway yard in November 2004 that he got darted and tagged, becoming instantly recognizable, Sinnott said. Since then, Buzzwinkle has been a downtown fixture, often seen sporting a tangle of Christmas lights in his rack.
Buzzwinkle earned his title -- the "most embarrassing nickname ever given to a moose," according to Sinnott -- in November, after he ate a pile of fermented crab apples in the courtyard of Bernie's Bungalow Lounge. Still tangled in the Christmas lights he'd found in Town Square Park, the moose assumed a disoriented pose as he began snorting steam and staring off into the distance, apparently drunk.
"That kind of sucks," said bartender Regina Senior, upon learning of Buzzwinkle's fate. "There's not a whole lot of cities that have moose hanging out downtown. It's kind of cool, 'cause they're huge."
The moose was likely eating the soft crab apples because his teeth were in such poor condition, said Jessy Coltrane, the assistant Anchorage-area biologist. Many of Buzzwinkle's teeth were broken or missing, and the ones that remained were severely worn because of his age, she said. Moose generally live to be between 8 and 10 years old, Coltrane said.
"Whenever you have a moose like that, that is a local landmark, it's sad to see them go," she said. "He was a really laid-back moose. We like to have the calm ones around."
Since earning his name, Buzzwinkle has been filmed walking the streets by the crew of the Discovery Channel's "MythBusters" for an episode questioning whether it is better for a driver to brake or accelerate if a moose collision is unavoidable. The episode has not yet aired.
The moose is also featured in the current issue of Alaska Magazine, Sinnott said. Buzzwinkle has Christmas lights in his antlers in the photo.
The U.S. Forest Service is using Buzzwinkle's meat, which was unfit for human consumption because of the infected injury, to catch wolverines that will be fitted with radio collars for research, Sinnott said. With most trapping seasons coming to an end, the only other option would have been to bury him at the landfill, he said.
"That didn't seem like a way for a wild moose to end his days," he said. "Better to be eaten by a wolverine."
Poor old Buzzwinkle. May he rest in peace.