Maine Game Warden Jonathan Parker had planned to spend Saturday with friends, enjoying the Maine outdoors. Instead, after an angler discovered a cow moose mired in the mud of Pushaw Stream, he spent the day up to his waist in muck, helping a team of would-be rescuers as they tried to save the animal’s life.
The moose didn’t make it — but not for a lack of trying.
“When you get the opportunity to try to save one of Maine’s big game animals, we do go to extra lengths,” Parker said. “Some people probably say we’re crazy, but this is what we sign up to do. I raised my right hand and swore an oath to serve and protect Maine’s fish and wildlife as well as Maine citizens.”
David Hadden was the angler who contacted Parker on Friday evening after spotting the moose mired in three feet of mud near shore. Parker reached out to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife moose biologist Lee Kantar, as well as retired game warden Jim Fahey, who was familiar with Pushaw Stream and access points. Rustin Ames and Chip McKnight completed the team that headed for the stream on Saturday morning.
Parker said the group wasn’t exactly sure what equipment to take with them. They used two small boats with outboard motors to ferry the gear to the moose, and after surveying the situation, Kantar sedated the moose using a hypodermic needle at the end of a pole, and the crew got to work.
Fahey and Ames hopped out into the muck, which was about waist-deep. Fahey’s responsibility was keeping the moose’s nose and mouth out of the water, while Kantar and Ames worked to get a strap under the moose’s chest, just behind her front legs.
Kantar said that the crew wasn’t sure how long the moose had been mired in the mud. It was at least hours, but could have been a couple of days.
Parker and McKnight took a capstan winch, which he had purchased years earlier to take on a moose hunt, and attached it to a tree. Then the group winched the moose ashore.
That was “Plan A,” according to Parker, and he said it went about as smoothly as the group could have hoped.
After fitting her with a collar and moving her farther inland, so that she wouldn’t stumble back into the mud, Kantar administered a drug to reverse the sedative’s effect, and the crew retreated.
In a perfect world, that rescue mission would have resulted in the moose happily lopping off into the woods, where it would live out its days in peace.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to have happened. On Sunday night, Kantar said that the GPS collar he had attached to the animal showed the animal initially moved about 500 feet from where the rescue crew left it. Since then, it hasn’t moved at all. The collar has since been sending out a mortality signal.
Kantar planned to head back into the woods on Monday to double-check, but he was prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“There’s a small percent of hope,” Kantar said. “But I’m presuming she didn’t make it due to exhaustion.”
That doesn’t mean that the mission was a failure, though. Kantar said he was proud of the work the crew did.
“It demonstrates, with all the cynicism and all the armchair biologists [out there criticizing management decisions], we all care very deeply,” Kantar said. “We got a crew of guys there that did everything we could to give that cow moose a chance.”
Parker said he’d hoped for a better outcome.
“You’re definitely saddened. When you hear that you’ve potentially lost this animal after all that we went through, but you don’t actually think of that,” Parker said. “We had this goal in mind, to get this moose out of the mud and get her onto her feet again.”
They succeeded in doing that.
And he said he thinks the team would do the same thing again if given the chance.
“We did the best that we could. You can’t change the outcome. You hope for the best,” Parker said. “It’s frustrating, but if we got the call again today, we’d all jump in with both feet and both hands, ready to go to work.”