Amy Bowers - TV Talk
A Copy Cat in Moose Clothing
"What we'd hit was not, in fact, a genuine mule deer, but a man dressed in a deer costume. He wore a flannel shirt and khaki's under his disguise, and introduced himself..."
Last month, I decided to write fiction on this page of The Digital Journalist. I made-up two characters, myself, and another myself. I put them in a setting familiar to me: a news crew car in New Mexico. Then I needed a plot. I figured I should include a UFO encounter, since I couldn't think of anything else. Okay. And since I've been obsessed for three months with a story I call "Mad Elk," I thought I'd have the car hit a large game animal. I heard a similar plot on a radio skit, in which a snowmobile hit a moose, and I liked it enough to borrow it.
It seemed a little thin, though. It just didn't, um, resonate...
With my column deadline approaching, I did a Live Shot for Good Morning America at KOAT in Albuquerque. After buying breakfast burritos for the crew and some of the newsroom staff, I solicited ideas for my story. I ran down my outline to soundman Darryl Frank: A TV crew hits a deer, and then a UFO lands. "No," he said, "it should be a person in a deer suit, not a deer." He had seen this in a comedy routine somewhere, with an undercover game warden inside the deer suit.
It was all I had, so I wrote it up, creating a short story that solicited comments like, "Very funny" and "Did you have a recent head injury?"
Before the laughter faded, I noticed an article in The New York Times on the Web. It seems that Joel Berger, a wildlife biologist at the University of Nevada at Reno, wears a moose costume while conducting his research in Yellowstone National Park. Berger wears the costume while mingling with moose to record their response to predators like gray wolves and grizzlies that are being re-introduced to the wild, after near-extinction.
I know life-imitates-art and all that, but the idea that another guy in an antler suit would show up on the Web doing something I could never have dreamed up all by myself, was enough to send me to the search engine for the fellow in the moose suit.
The next day, I talked on the phone with Joel Berger. He explained that moose in Wyoming have been isolated from grizzly bears and wolves for nearly a century, and they don't display the vigilance they will need when the predators are re-introduced to the habitat. He studies the animals' behavior by placing a pile of what bears are known for doing in the woods, very near the moose. The first "bearshit" delivery system he tried was the slingshot method, which behaved like the proverbial fan.
Joel Berger decided he needed to "look like a moose," and asked a costume designer from the original Star Wars movie to make a moose suit. The price tag for such outerwear runs from $2,000 for the deluxe model, down to a mere $250 for the one Joel ordered. Joel does his "planet-of-the-moose" amblings in the moose suit so he can drop frozen chunks of predator-scented feces near his research subjects in parks like Yellowstone.
I thanked Joel for validating my online fiction with his real-life experience, and marveled at the World Wide Web for allowing me to find this bizarre and happy convergence.
Later, I emailed Joel to ask whether he might send me a photo of himself in the moose suit. He was up in Bozeman that day, but someone at his workspace sent me this reply: "We do have images of Joel in the moose suit, but he charges a fee of $250 per image for one time use."
With all the concerns voiced on the editorial pages here about compensation for still images, I'm glad that one strange ranger is clearing enough cash per image to buy himself another moose outfit.
If he sells his old moose suits to undercover game wardens, I hope they have the good sense to stay off the road. I would hate for this story to come full circle with the collision of a not-moose and a crew car.
But I'm pulling for the UFO encounter.
Read last month's column: "The Farm Report"