Every year, when the calendar turns to September, naturalist Mike Dobbs adds an unusual item to his usual list of instructions for folks preparing to tour Northwest Trek Wildlife Park: silence your cellphones, stay on the tram and be prepared for an X-rated encounter.
During the rut, or mating season for hoofed animals, a chance meeting with a randy bison is always possible. More likely, visitors to the Eatonville park will witness other behaviors — snorting, bugling and sparring among them — that males use to show off their dominance and attract females.
“A lot of people don’t know what rutting is. But if you say mating season, they do know what that’s all about. The bison are now in high gear out there,” said Dobbs, eyes twinkling. “We had a lot of babies born from last year’s mating season. Fawns, caribou calves, the baby bison and, of course, the baby moose.”
Willow, a moose calf born a mere seven weeks ago, is the undeniable star of this weekend’s Get Out of the Rut, the annual educational event at Northwest Trek. The spindly 50-pound creature is the first moose calf born at the park in 15 years and has no shortage of admirers.
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“Everyone loves her; how could you not?” keeper Robin Freise said. “She’s got that cute little crunchy nose, she makes cute baby sounds.”
Although she’s healthy and increasingly independent, her need to nurse should continue her bond with her mother for the next several months.
Completing a lovely circle of life, Willow was born July 17, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Northwest Trek. Her mother, Connie, was named after Connie Hellyer, one of the park’s founders. The bull moose Ellis is the father and his namesake is Dave Ellis, a longtime deputy director.
Get Out of the Rut concludes Monday (Sept. 7). Hours are from 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Events include trailside encounters, keeper talks and the Elklympics, where kids compete for paper medals by imitating elk rutting behaviors like thrashing, sparring and bugling.
Don’t worry, parents. That’s all G-rated.