The prevalence of moose in the St. John's area does not mean their numbers are on the rise, says a provincial wildlife expert.

Rather, it's likely the result of urban sprawl and simply that time of the year.

"The females give birth to new calves in mid-May, so the calves they had the previous year are kind of parentless," said John Blake, director of wildlife for the Department of Environment and Conservation.

"So last year's calves, or yearlings, are very much uneducated and kind of looking for their own way in the world, so to speak. They're very naive and not used to humans and cars, but if they find some food source that they're comfortable with, then they're just going to stay there until something happens to drive them out of it."

Seeking sustenance

Blake said the moose are more likely to visit the big city this year because the harsh winter has made foraging more difficult in the wilderness.

"Obviously, moose prefer forested habitats with wetlands and aquatic vegetation and willows and regenerating forests as their primary food source, but when that's not available, then they'll often encroach on urban areas where the 'green-up' occurs earlier," said Blake.

"I think developed areas often times green up quicker … whether it's just a result of manicured lawns or trees or shrubs."

He said it's important to realize that humans are moving in on moose territory, not the other way around.

"Really, any new housing development in any part of the province is encroaching on moose habitat." - John Blake, provincial director of wildlife

"Really, any new housing development in any part of the province is encroaching on moose habitat," Blake said.

Meanwhile, he said their numbers are dropping, despite daily sightings in the capital city.

"There are some areas doing better than others, but on a provincial scale they're declining," he said.

Blake estimates the number of moose in the province has gone from a high of about 140,000 in the late 1990s, to about 100,000 today.

He said while it may be considered common sense to stay clear of the animals if there's an encounter, Blake said that's not always easy, especially if the family dog is present.

Moose have right-of-way

"Yield to the moose, obviously, because he or she is much larger than you are, but they also have a great fear of dogs in particular," he said, noting it's an instinctual aversion to predators that resemble wolves.

"They just really do not like dogs, and can become very aggressive regardless of age or sex."

Blake said meeting up with moose anywhere in the province is never surprising.

"We should always be aware that we do share habitat with wildlife. And it's not uncommon, especially in a predominantly rural province like Newfoundland and Labrador, to have significant interactions with wildlife," he said.

"And I think, generally, people are OK with that, and they want to feel that they're living in a healthy, vibrant ecosystem that has wildlife in it, as long as it doesn't cause problems."