Alaska state troopers see plenty of hazards, but Trooper Howard Peterson was nearly felled by a new one: falling moose.
Peterson was driving Feb. 2 on the Seward Highway south of Anchorage when something big and black fell out of the sky about 20 feet in front of his patrol car. "Falling rock!" he thought, ready to steer clear if it bounced onto the highway.
The thing didn't roll or shatter. It turned out to be a moose that had fallen from cliffs next to the highway.
Drivers often see Dall sheep on the cliffs but rarely moose. Peterson estimates the animal fell 150 feet or more.
It was windy that night, Peterson said, and a gust may have startled the moose into a fatal fall.
"They occasionally have bad days like the rest of us," said wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott. "They slip and fall. Maybe he was reaching for a branch and the snow just gave way."
Sinnott has heard of moose dying in strange ways — breaking through ice and drowning, jumping off railroad bridges at the sound of a train, falling off small banks. Once he saw the remains of two bulls that died during a rutting battle when their antlers got hooked together by a single piece of barbed wire.
A fall off a cliff probably doesn't happen often, he said.
Peterson treated the dead animal the same way he handles moose killed by cars. After snapping photos, Peterson called one of the charities that salvage road kill.