It took one look from Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve’s Hershe the Moose to make a powerful impression on Maureen McCarthy.
“I was compelled to sit there,” the Whitby native said, describing her first encounter with him last September. “I sat there for probably close to two hours, just looking at each other … I could see into his heart and soul. He was just a magnificent, kind guy.”
McCarthy joined hundreds on social media in mourning the death of Hershe, announced June 11. The eight-year-old animal passed after a months-long battle with illness.
“It hit me hard,” McCarthy told The Highlander. “I’m starting to tear up now. It was as if somebody told me a close friend had passed away.”
Hershe arrived in Haliburton Forest in 2011, after his mother was killed in a vehicle accident near Pembroke, according to the organization’s blog.
He and his sibling were three-weeks-old and with slim chances of survival, they were brought to Haliburton Forest for care.
Tourism and recreation general manager Tegan Legge said it was a quick decision to take them on.
“Nobody really thought about what it’s going to cost to have these moose. They just felt this love and responsibility,” Legge said.
Although Hershe’s sibling died within hours of arrival, he made it through. Elke and Minna Schleifenbaum raised him, feeding and sleeping alongside him.
Legge attributed Hershe’s well-known friendliness to his development.
“He was raised by Minna and Elke who were very compassionate humans. He just got so used to people and never needing to fear humans,” Legge said. “That’s partly why we couldn’t put him back in the wild, he got so used to humans.”
Hershe went on to become a famous attraction for the reserve, perfectly willing to trot up and interact with his many visitors. It was that personality which made him so beloved, Legge said.
“It’s one thing to go to a wildlife reserve or a zoo or something and see an animal from afar,” she said. “He was actually approachable … he was coming right up to the fence and saying hello to everybody.”
But his carefree days came to an end when he came down with sickness earlier this year. Legge said treatments proved ineffective and veterinary experts estimated he only had two weeks to live.
With Hershe struggling to breathe and walk, they decided to put him down before the illness got worse.
Tests have ruled out any fear his illness could spread to other animals. But the cause of the sickness has yet to be determined.
Hershe’s passing went viral, with hundreds of well-wishers sharing the news on Facebook.
“He’s definitely had this legacy at the forest that I think is going to live on for a very long time and touched a lot of people,” Legge said. That legacy stretches far and wide.
Although McCarthy only met him once, she said Hershe spoke to her.
“It was like love at first sight. I can’t tell you what that connection was but I couldn’t leave his side.”