RANGELEY — An orphaned moose calf born last summer in the Rangeley area died Thursday of an infection.
A preliminary examination of the body showed a high infection rate of lungworm, which contributed to the moose’s death, said Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Lungworm is occasionally found in young moose, state wildlife biologist and Mammal Group Leader Walter Jakubas said.
“Lungworms are a type of parasitic ringworm found in the lungs where they lay eggs that hatch into larvae,” he said.
Larvae are picked up by moose while feeding on vegetation in the wild.
“Moose with lungworm infections can develop pneumonia that can severely compromise function of their lungs,” he said. “There is no risk to humans from lungworm.”
The moose calf was named South Branch Suzie by Saddleback Mountain ski resort residents who would see her on ski trails, often in the South Branch skiing area, and walking through the community.
South Branch Suzie had her own Facebook page, with 1,093 “friends” as of mid-afternoon Friday when the report of her death was released.
“The Berry family and all of us here at Saddleback are heartbroken to hear about the passing of South Branch Suzie," JoAnne Taylor, resort marketing director, said Friday by e-mail.
"We’d hoped that she’d be returned to Saddleback in the spring, rehabilitated and truly wild again," Taylor wrote. "It is very sad news.”
Turcotte said Maine District Game Warden Reggie Hammond had hoped the orphaned moose would find other moose and assimilate with those living around Saddleback Mountain. But that didn't happen.
“Remaining in the wild is almost always what’s best for moose and other wildlife,” Turcotte said.
However, after a few weeks of showing a high level of habituation to people at Saddleback, Hammond asked Strong wildlife biologists Chuck Hulsey and Bob Cordes to capture the moose and transfer it to a rehabilitation facility to ensure its safety and that of the community.
“She was becoming too accustomed to living near people and one night was almost hit by a trail groomer,” Turcotte said.
On Dec. 29, 2010, the moose calf was chemically immobilized by Hulsey and Cordes, and with the help of Hammond and volunteers, taken to Second Chance Wildlife Inc. in New Sharon.
“The move to the rehabilitation center was the best solution for trying to help the young moose through the winter and prepare her for a return to the wild,” Turcotte said.
Department wildlife biologists said the calf was becoming acclimated to her surroundings and feeding on natural browse.
However, she was slightly thin at the time of capture and likely entered the winter in poor condition, Turcotte said.
On Thursday, South Branch Suzie was transported from Second Chance Wildlife to the Department's Bangor Research Office for an animal autopsy, known as a necropsy, by Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, University of Maine Cooperative Extension veterinarian.