The Strange Life and Death of Pete the Moose

Vermont's celebrated beast succumbs amid controversy

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Pete the Moose had had brushes with death before. The orphaned moose was raised by a human minder after being attacked by dogs. Then, living contentedly in a Vermont game preserve, he faced the prospect of execution, as state officials planned to euthanize native animals in the reserve, to prevent them from contracting a disease from the imported elk around them.

Public outcry saved Pete after state officials announced their plans to off him in 2009, and the legislature stepped in last year, creating a special new designation that would allow the moose, and others similarly situated, to continue to live in the woods of Big Rack Ridge. There, he concentrated on his interests, which included apples, bananas and Snickers bars (but never Milky Ways, the Associated Press reports), and other moose. The AP notes that a female who spent time with Pete is now pregnant.

Alas, Pete is no more. As rumors swirled about his demise, state officials have announced that he died after being tranquilized for treatment of a hoof condition. And even that said end has been complicated by the behavior of the humans around him, the Burlington Free Press reported.

Up until late Friday afternoon, state officials were assuring Pete’s many fans that the animal was alive and well at the game park despite rumors to the contrary. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department even issued a photo Thursday of a healthy, perky-looking moose taken at the park and identified the animal as Pete.

But it wasn’t. A day after releasing the photo, Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry found himself announcing that Pete was indeed dead. The moose in the photo turned out to be an imposter named Davey, one of six surviving moose at the game park.

Berry in an interview Friday evening blamed game park owner Doug Nelson for the fake photo. Nelson didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

Berry also offered a moral to the story: Pete never should have been taken from the wild in the first place.

The owner of the hunting preserve on which Pete the Moose lived apparently used another moose to pose as the famous animal in a photograph, by way of deflating rumors that Pete had died. (The impostor, Davey, still lives.) The picture was broadcast on local TV news, but "Pete’s loved ones knew something was amiss," the Free Press reported.

WCAX reached out to David Lawrence, the man who made a pet of the young Pete before the moose was given a home at Big Rack Ridge. Lawrence said the photo was not of his beloved Pete, but another moose in the facility named Davey. Berry says after the photo was called into question, he spoke with Nelson, who admitted that the moose in the photo was in fact Davey.

Pete leaves a legacy, state officials said, including the 2010 law that established that wildlife are a public resource. “We live in a state where we have wildlife all around us," Berry told the Free Press. "You don’t have to put them behind a fence in order to appreciate them.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.