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Moose targeted for death gets reprieve

Pete the Moose munched on apples, bananas and a Snickers candy bar — he won't eat a Milky Way — blissfully unaware of his near-demise, a fate averted by lawmakers and helped along by thousands of fans online.

Vermont's favorite animal, which had been ordered last summer to be removed from a game preserve or destroyed, will now be allowed to stay on the land near the U.S.-Canada border under a compromise fashioned by state lawmakers in the waning hours of their session last week.

The turnabout came after the 700-pound moose's tale of woe went viral, prompting a "Save Pete the Moose" website, a Facebook page (3,510 people "like this" as of Friday), about 10,000 YouTube views and a rally at Vermont's statehouse.

"It's the best I could've hoped for," said David Lawrence, 74, who nursed him to health and tends to him at the Big Rack Ridge preserve. "They wanted to kill Peter."

The fenced-in 700-acre preserve, which charges hunters to kill trophy elk, is also home to white-tailed deer and a handful of moose — including Pete. He was adopted as a calf after dogs attacked his mother and a sibling.

Lawrence, a soft-spoken, white-bearded animal lover who keeps a menagerie of animals at his home, offered to tend to the animal and has raised him since then, under the eyes of preserve owner Doug Nelson.

Pete, who follows Lawrence when he visits, spends his days noshing on birch and maple trees, as well as on the treats that Lawrence brings him, which include hay, apples and the occasional candy bar.

Last summer, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife said Pete and other native deer and moose living in the compound shouldn't be mixing with the farm-raised elk because of fears that tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease — a brain ailment — could be spread, though neither had been found there.

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The state said either the preserve would have to close or Pete and the other animals would have to be put down. The issue wasn't focused on the moose, but on the fact that the preserve mixes imported elk with native moose and deer.

"You wouldn't want to release them into the wild because what if they've been exposed to something from the captive elk? Then they'd spread it to the whole whitetail population," said assistant state veterinarian Michael Wood.

In their annual session, which ended May 12, Vermont lawmakers crafted a compromise. In it, the animals at the Big Rack Ridge preserve were designated a "special purpose herd," oversight of which was transferred from Fish and Wildlife to the state Agency of Agriculture.

Nelson, in turn, was told to come up with a management plan and fortify the 8-foot-tall wire fencing with a parallel fence that ensures the animals in the compound can't get out, other animals can't get in and the two populations never have "nose to nose" contact.

In addition, the state will regularly take samples from some of the animals to look for signs of disease, Wood said.

It all adds up to a pardon for Vermont's most famous animal.

"Power to the 'pete-ple'!!!!!" wrote one Facebook friend. "We won one for the big guy!!!!"

Nelson, a 68-year-old dairy farmer, says the moose is blissfully unaware of the fate he dodged.

The animal certainly looked it Wednesday, as Lawrence hand-fed him through a fence, reflecting on the reprieve.

"He just does his thing every day. If someone shot him and shot him good, he wouldn't have cared because he wouldn't have known," Lawrence said.

The moose has a new lease on life now — two of them, in fact. Patty, a female moose that was keeping companions with him last fall, is due any day now with a calf believed to be Pete's.

"He better not go near the calf and Patty," Lawrence said. "He better stay clear for a while. The female is very aggressive and will not tolerate anybody, not just him. She's not going to let nobody near that calf."

Given Pete's history, it's best she doesn't.

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