by Michael Doherty
“Bruce! Bruce! There’s a moose loose in the hoose!” How often do we hear this lament emanating from the average Scottish household when a small furry intruder enters the human domain?
Not to be outdone by Scottish imitations however, we in Australia have a similar beastie (in pronunciation at least) – the Marsupial Moose. Various species of moose inhabit Australia, but the one most commonly encountered by bushwalkers in eastern Australia is Antechinus flavipes (the Yellow-footed Antechinus). These creatures (the mooses that is, not the bushwalkers) inhabit sclerophyll forest and rainforest and are members of the marsupial (metatherian) family Dasyuridae, sub-family Phascogalinae. Members af this sub-family can be recognised by the following features:
- the skull is often flattened
- the teeth are small and pointed and blade-like
- the canines are well developed and have effective cutting edges
- the molars have three sharp cusps
- there are eight incisors above and three below
- the snout is tapered
- on the female, the number of teats ranges from eight to twelve (distinguishing the marsupial moose from the introduced hoose moose)
Native mooses prey on anthropods, worms, small birds, hoose mooses and unwary bushwalkers. As Troughton (1951) states:
“The diet consists of insects and flesh….”
Bearing this in mind, picture if you will the following scene. A lone bushwalker, a mental and physiCal wreck, lies prostrate, benighted on top of Mt. Cloudmaker, running embarrassingly late on a Three Peaks attempt. The sturdy but not quite sober individual begins to tremble, Volleys shaking uncontrollably. They know that very soon, the mooses will appear, to begin their nocturnal foray. A thousand eyes peer, out of the darkness, a thousand jaws drool in anticipation of a forthcoming meal. The walker realises that the only way to appease these ravenous jaws is to prepare offerings of food. A piece of smelly cheese is placed on the ground, the walker sits and waits. Slowly, the furry fiends emerge into the light of the fire and sniff the offering. After recovering from the mouldy disgusting smell, they start to nibble the cheese in an apparently timid manner. It is only then that the walker realises the fatal mistake that has been made. The crunch of bone, cartilage and flesh gradually replaces piercing screams as the walker is slowly torn apart by thousands of tiny razor-sharp teeth. By the early morning glow, all that is left of the hapless walker is a pair of shredded volleys. Even the alcohol in the campass has been devoured.
This woeful tale is a stark reminder that the bush can be a terrifying place to the inexperienced. That is, brussel sprouts (boy scouts), tourists, boot wearers and those who eat dehyds. As every real bushwalker knows, the best way to protect yourself from these marsupial marauders is to carry an all-purpose moose-noose with you. This is not to be confused with the goose-noose, used by down sleeping bag manufacturers, or the groose-noose used in the Scottish Highlands, nor the spruce-noose used in Scandinavian countries for very obscure reasons.
The real moose-noose is used oniy as a last resort, when a slow tortuous death at the hands (and feet) of the mooses is inevitable. A length of rope is looped over a tree limb, a hangman’s knot tied at the end, the other end tightly secured. The user waits until the mooses are approaching. Just as they are moving in for the kill….TWANG! The rope swings taut and the user dangles from the tree, freed from a slow and painful death from these marsupial marauders.
Historical records show the fierce nature of these ravenous beasties. As the famous explorer Captain Haggis X. McSporran noted in his journal of 1873:
“I’d rather eat myself and my horse than be subjected to the hideous death that awaits all those who venture near the lair of the native moose.”
In another journal, dated 1864, the Reverend Jock Q. Hoots states:
“The native moose, of all creatures in this strange land, is the only one known to hunt in packs af up to one hundred. Their nightly wanderings are often a danger to booth (sic.) man and beast alike. They have been known to consume a fully grown horse, tethered to a post, in only three seconds.”
The most hideous account of all is given by Dr. Iva Halibut, a visiting Scottish ichthyologist, in her book of 1907, “Rumblings Down Under”:
“The cedar cutters of the eastern coast of New South Wales are wary of sleeping under the stars, for fear of the so-called marsupial moose. They tell stories of these seemingly charming little mammals crawling up men’s nostrils during their slumbers and gnawing at their brains. I deduce from this tale that the long beards of the cedar cutters may be used to ward off these creatures.”
Dr. Halibut’s deduction would seem to be correct. How many walkers with beards can you recall whose brains have been gnawed by native mooses?
As prevention is better than cure (especially when the moose-noose is involved) the best protection of all from nocturnal nasal gnawing by mooses is a moosetache. These ward off mooses as they give the owner a superficial similarity to a hairy-nosed wombat which, as luck would have it, are not preyed upon by mooses. For those female walkers wishing to venture into moose country, false moosetaches are available from Dr. Spondonikles Bushwalking and Rucksack Sports Store, situated at the Bell Station ticket office.
Native mooses are also notorious for eating into packs and food bags. Woe betide any walker that inadvertently leaves their pack unsecured for the night! By morning, numerous holes will be the only remains of what was once a pack full of foad (and port). The only way a pack can be spared from these dasyurid demons is by burying it at least one metre underground, or by devising a pack made from extremely hairy material (an uncomfortable proposition).
A final note on the acrobatic ability of mooses is warranted so as to alert walkers to the fact that they,must be prepared for attacks from any direction. Mooses have been seen to run upside-down under logs and jump head-first into billies full of mac, oblivious to human onlookers. Unsuspecting walkers have had their foreheads used as launching pads for kamikaze-like dives into the long grass, the moose obviously being scared off by the presence of a moosetache. Generally, mooses progress by “squirrel-like jumps” but when alarmed can also jump backwards up trees.
Armed with this article and a billy-full of common sense, the walker may safely enter the domain of the marsupial moose without fear or trepidation. As Lewis Carroll almost said once:
“Beware the marsupial moose my son,
The claws that scratch, the jaws that bite;
Beware the wattle bird,
And avoid the canyon snake.”
Troughton, E. (1951). Furred Animals of Australia. Angus and Robertson. Sydney.