Pete the Moose, who developed a cult following with a Facebook page and a rally at the Vermont Statehouse after biologists threatened to kill him to prevent the spread of disease, has died, the state's top wildlife official said Friday.
Pete, whose case helped prompt the Legislature to pass new wildlife laws two years in a row and who received a gubernatorial pardon last winter, didn't wake up after being tranquilized for hoof treatment at the captive elk farm where he was living, Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, who earlier had said he had certain empathy for the bull moose because of their shared name, issued a statement Friday on Pete's death, which Berry believes happened last month.
"I join the friends and fans of Pete the Moose in expressing my sadness at his passing," Shumlin said. "My thanks to those who voiced concern about the fate of the animal and who have - like me - believed in the pardon for Pete."
Pete's Facebook page on Friday had about 6,000 people saying they liked the moose. His fate was the subject of a rally at the Statehouse by people opposed to the plan to kill Pete.
Pete enjoyed munching on apples, bananas and Snickers candy bars but refused to eat Milky Ways. In 2010, a female moose that kept companions with Vermont's favorite animal was pregnant with a calf believed to be Pete's.
Pete, who was adopted as a calf after dogs attacked his mother and a sibling, was living on the Big Rack Ridge property in Irasburg, an enclosed preserve devoted to allowing people to hunt for elk imported into Vermont.
In 2009, state officials said they didn't want native wild animals mixing with the elk, out of fear that chronic wasting disease could spread to the native animals and they could then escape back into the wild. Animals other than elk on the preserve were ordered hunted and killed.
A public outcry erupted, and in 2010, 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. That meant that preserve owner Doug Nelson owned the animals.
But lawmakers reversed themselves earlier this year, saying wild animals in the state can't be privately owned and are legally a public trust, owned by all Vermonters.