Is that moose walking on slippers? No, as it turns out, those strange curved things on its feet are actually its own hooves. An Anchorage resident recently took the photo embedded below of a moose with what appears to be “sleigh hoof” syndrome, a symptom of copper deficiency or an overabundance of other minerals.
— KTUU.com (@Ch2KTUU) July 7, 2015
“I’ve lived in Alaska my entire life and have never seen a moose like this,” Becki Grady, who took the photo, told KTUU. “I thought it had been injured until I saw that all four of its hooves were curved like that.”
While it may be strange—and a little bit creepy—the condition is actually not that unusual. Ungulates with the symptom can be seen infrequently across the state, but are especially common in southcentral Alaska. This is because the region has lower levels of copper, which is vital to the proper growth of moose hooves. A lack of the mineral causes the moose’s hoof cells to inflate and grow uncontrollably. Too much zinc or iron can also block moose from adequately absorbing copper.
The result is a elongated, visibly deformed hoof. The symptom is relatively painless, but it does make the animal clumsy and slow, reducing its chances of escaping from predators. Wildlife experts, such as biologist David Battle, say it is currently unknown if the condition causes a significant rise in mortality. If the animal is fortunate, the hoof will break off. If the animal is unlucky, it will run into a bear or pack of wolves that have to put less work into chasing down a meal.