By Sue Tiffin
A gentle giant docile and calm Hershe the moose lived a quiet life in an enclosure on the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve. It might even have been possible for guests at the property's base camp to pass him by if he was wandering out of public sight in the four-acre space he roamed. But when the Forest announced the death of the beloved animal this week it became quickly apparent how much of an impact Hershe had made on the lives of countless people in his eight years as an icon in Haliburton County.
Within hours of the announcement by the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve sharing that Hershe had “developed a number of health conditions which were being closely monitored and treated” but that he was “deemed to not recover” more than 700 people had reacted to the social media post.
Krista Mapes from Beaverton posted that she was grateful for all Hershe had done for her family. She first met him in 2015 and visited him each summer.
“He on our very first visit made an impact on my kids” she told the Echo . “Hershe opened the doors to many conversations about preservation of wildlife and the things we could do as a family to make our ecosystem better … Never mind just how wonderful it was to spend time with him in the quiet and have him be so close to us.”
Mapes called Hershe a majestic animal and like so many of his visitors experienced him coming near the fence to get a closer look at the people stopping by.
“Blessings to all who cared for him” she said. “I'm sure many hearts are broken but especially theirs.”
Tegan Legge general manager tourism and recreation at Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve said staff have all “had a good cry.” They had hoped Hershe would recover but a vet recommended euthanasia for the moose due to his suffering. Consultations with the Toronto Zoo could not determine what type of sickness Hershe had and so the Forest has requested a necropsy to learn more.
“Once I started reading the hundreds of comments that people are making and posting pictures and stuff that's when it really hit home just how much he really meant to everybody” said Legge. “If you read the comments on Facebook it's outstanding how much … I don't think I realized that many people have been touched with Hershe and it was incredible.”
It was Legge who took the phone call in 2011 when Hershe and his twin sister were discovered alongside a highway near where their mother had been killed by a vehicle in the Pembroke area. The Haliburton Forest team had already cared for a moose Mortimer who needed refuge after being discovered with a parasite in his brain that was affecting his survival instinct making him feel too comfortable with people and said ok to taking Hershe and his sister in.
Away from their mother Hershe's sister died of starvation before she could be helped. Hershe who is so named because it wasn't evident whether the moose was a “he or she” at first bonded with the Schleifenbaum family at the Forest from the moment he arrived.
“Elke and Minna took turns bottle feeding Hershe and sleeping with him in the barn” said Legge. “Just like a newborn [moose] need to feed every few hours so between Minna Elke and Peter they became really bonded with Hershe. He became a bit more of a horse than a moose. They get all the credit for Hershe [surviving] they did all the research made sure he got a moose formula you can't just give them any type of milk it would make him sick. There was a supplement they had to give him. It was a lot of work and they put a lot of painstaking hours into it. The fun part of it as he grew up he could start eating what was naturally around but every day you'd see Peter come through with his pick-up truck full of poplar leaves and you knew he was going down to see Hershe and they would have their chat of the day.”
When it was determined Hershe was male he was castrated to prevent him from hurting himself or people during rutting season which led to his unique antlers that without normal hormone fluctuations never shed.
The messages received by Legge and fellow staff after Hershe's death this week tell the story of his life with people sharing that Hershe was the first moose they had ever seen or that they checked in on the social creature often with their visiting grandkids. One woman memorably had Hershe approach the fence and sneeze on her.
Legge recalls one of her favourite memories of Hershe when Darren Lum of the Echo stopped by in spring 2012 to meet the moose who had been there for just a few months.
“At that time [Hershe] was still living with the horses down in the paddock” said Legge. “I was bringing Darren down to do a story on him. I was warned you know [Hershe] has his horse days and he has his moose days so maybe stay out of the enclosure. Don't go in.”
But upon reaching the enclosure Legge discovered one of the horses inside needed her assistance. Moving into the space she kept a buffer of a horse or tree in between her and Hershe until a space of about 15 to 20 feet was left between the horse she was behind and the horse she wanted to aid.
“I'm going okay Hershe I'm just going to go visit that horse over there” she said. “And he walked right up to me and put his nose under my shoulder and just snuggled me like a horse would. He just let me pet him. And I cried. I was like oh my God I'm petting a moose.”
Buried on Haliburton Forest land Legge said Hershe has “gone back into the forest.” She said she has appreciated the understanding and support from the community who in their condolences also thanked the Haliburton Forest team for years of keeping Hershe safe and comfortable.
A comment made by Tracey Holmgren on a photo of Hershe posted on the Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve Facebook page gently bids the cherished moose farewell acknowledging the collective loss felt by the community: “Walk deeply into the cool dark forest. Many hearts go with you.”