State officials felt they had no choice but to kill an injured moose that had been hanging out in the Ausable River in Wilmington Notch, according to David Winchell, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The primary factor was its deteriorating condition,” Winchell said this morning. “It was not able to move out of there on its own, and the likely outcome would have been its death anyway.”
The bull moose showed up last weekend in a steep ravine on the West Branch of the Ausable. Over the next several days, motorists would stop to gawk at the animal, creating a traffic hazard along the narrow Route 86 corridor. On Saturday, a DEC wildlife technician shot the moose with a paintball gun to try to get it to leave. Although favoring its left leg, the moose was able to move into nearby woods. At the time, DEC thought the animal stood a good chance of recovery.
The next day the moose returned to the ravine. On Monday, DEC shot the animal with rubber buckshot, but it stayed in the river. Winchell said it became apparent that the injuries were more severe than first believed: the moose was having trouble putting weight on its hind legs.
On Tuesday afternoon, after closing the highway, DEC dispatched the moose with a rifle shot. “This is considered one of the quickest, safest, and most humane ways to kill large wildlife,” Winchell said.
Although authorities also had been concerned about the traffic hazard caused by spectators, he added, “it was not the primary factor in the decision-making.”
Given the treacherous nature of the terrain, Winchell said, tranquilizing the moose was not a practical option. “This would have been dangerous to the animal and the people participating, mainly due to the steep slopes, the large rocks, and the water found in that location,” he said. “The moose could have slipped on the rocks and injured itself even more or it could have fallen into the water and drowned before wildlife staff could reach it.”
Winchell said DEC doesn’t know what would have drawn the moose to Wilmington Notch. He noted that it’s hardly ideal moose habitat: “It’s a narrow ravine, very rocky, not a lot of food for the moose, and hard to get around.”
DEC sent the carcass to its wildlife pathology unit outside Albany. It likely will be several weeks before the results of a necropsy are known.
Moose vanished from the Adirondacks more than a century ago, but they have made a strong comeback in recent decades. DEC estimates that there are now eight hundred to a thousand of the large ungulates in the region.
Winchell warned that motorists may see more moose in the coming weeks. “It is that time of year when they start moving around and looking for mates,” he said.