CAMDEN, Maine — A moose on the loose Tuesday morning in the Knox Mill Center generated excitement in town before it was sedated, transported and set free that afternoon in the Ruffingham Meadow State Game Management Area in Searsmont.
The 500-pound cow moose apparently wandered into the building about 8:30 a.m. through an open back door used by Sage Market. Its lumbering bulk was a shock to staff and residents of the mixed-use complex on the Megunticook River formerly used by credit card company MBNA.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” said Lt. Randy Gagne of the Camden Police Department. “I’ve chased moose all over town, but I’ve never had one go into a building. You don’t see that every day.”
Jim Connolly, regional wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the 2½-year-old cow moose may have been walking in the woods along the river before it blundered into the mill building.
“Sometimes they just get following a stream and end up where they shouldn’t be,” Connolly said.
When the moose was in the building, it seemed a little panicky, witnesses said, but didn’t hurt anyone or get hurt itself.
“It never charged anyone,” said Joel Blemaster, property manager for the complex. “It never got real aggressive. Once it ran down the wrong hallway and got cornered — and it got a little agitated.”
While the moose attracted quite a crowd, witnesses said, Camden Police Department officials and building staff were able to secure it away from people in a utility area in the parking garage. At about noon Connolly and biologist Keel Kemper jabbed the animal with two doses of tranquilizer. Once the moose was sedated, the biologists had help from the Police Department and complex staff to move it outside on a tarp. The moose was loaded onto the back of a pickup truck with a backhoe, said Gagne.
“It was a very good outcome,” Connolly said. “We’re very pleased. Folks that were there watching were very respectful. They stayed back and didn’t create any challenges for us.”
Complex resident Les Wainer had just finished his morning coffee at a Camden eatery when an employee of Sage Market told him to watch out for the moose.
“I said, ‘yeah, sure,’” said Wainer, who moved with his wife to Maine from New Orleans three years ago. “I went into the lobby and saw the moose. Well, I got out of the lobby kind of quick.”
A filmmaker working on a Discovery Channel documentary about how moose interact with people was on the scene and able to film the operation. He also tagged along with the biologists on their mission to get the animal back to the wilderness, said Connolly, who rode in the back of the truck with the moose to make sure it stayed aligned on its sternum, so as to not develop potentially fatal bloat.
Connolly said that while they initially had intended to release the moose at a different wilderness management area, they decided to let it go at Ruffingham Meadow, which is a little closer to Camden.
“We wanted to make sure we got the moose back into the woods as quick as possible,” Connolly said. “Keeping it cool was really important.”
Connolly and the others waited until the moose shook off the effects of the tranquilizer and started walking.
“It was a little unsteady, but it was able to walk off down the road,” he said.
Although the wildlife department deals with a couple of moose incidents a year, Connolly said, it’s unusual to have one caught in a public building. In 2004, he helped move a moose from a downtown Augusta garage.
As for the Knox Mill, the moose may be gone but won’t soon be forgotten.
“A lot of people are coming in, asking about the moose,” said Cortney Gionet, manager of Sage Market. “We have a picture of it already on our wall. And it definitely left its mark all over the carpets.”