Yearling moose dies in rescue attempt

An Idaho Fish and Game officer uses a stethoscope to listen for breathing or a heartbeat in a sedated female yearling moose after personnel from Fish and Game, Sun Valley Fire Department and Sun Valley Police Department rescued it from a basement window well at a home in Lane Ranch on Thursday evening. After minutes of meticulous searching, he was unable to hear signs of life.

A female yearling moose died after being rescued from a basement window well it had fallen into at a home in Lane Ranch subdivision in Sun Valley on Thursday afternoon.

Rescuers from Idaho Fish and Game, Sun Valley Fire Department and Sun Valley Police Department successfully plucked the tranquilized moose, estimated to weigh about 500 pounds, from the window well, but the animal was unable to self-regulate its body temperature in outside air temperatures that dropped into the single digits, Fahrenheit. The moose died as Fish and Game officers attempted to reverse the tranquilizer.

Personnel on scene said that the moose fell into the window well around mid-afternoon on Thursday, and that a property manager at the home reported the trapped animal. Had the man not spotted the moose, they said, it likely would have starved. Fish and Game Regional Supervisor Craig White, who led rescue efforts, said the window well was about 8 feet deep. Firefighters said that, when standing, the moose’s head was barely at ground level, and that there was about 3 feet of snow on the ground around the window well.

Moose, elk and other large mammals often walk under the eaves of homes during periods of deep snowpack, drawn to exposed ground and foliage, but they occasionally stumble into basement window wells, Fish and Game officers said.

“Up here, especially with the snow, it starts to become pretty normal that officers get called out at least one or twice a year,” White said. “It may not be a moose—it may be an elk. We’ve had them in the window wells, we’ve had them break through the windows and into the home and all that thing.”

White said that the plan Thursday evening was to sedate the moose using the drug carfentanyl, an animal tranquilizer similar to the prescription opioid fentanyl, before securing the animal in a large harness and lifting it from the window well with a telescopic forklift operated by a local contractor. Rescuers would then drag the moose away from the home to prevent it from running back into the window well once the tranquilizer was reversed with the drug naltrexone.

“It was a good plan. Fortunately we had the EMTs, we had the firefighters, we had the local police department—great turnout, great help, they did a fantastic job,” White said. “For the most part, everything went well; we were able to keep the moose from panicking and going through the window—that was our goal—and then we were trying to get it up and out.”

Firefighters in the basement of the home braced themselves against sheets of plywood held against the inside of the window to prevent the moose from falling through. With a harness finally attached, the moose was lifted from the window well and placed into the adjacent snow-covered yard on a large tarp with handles around the edges, which more than a dozen people used to carry the animal down the driveway and into the street, where Fish and Game officers tagged it, administered naltrexone and assessed its condition. Officers administered the naltrexone about one hour after tranquilizing the moose with carfentanyl.

“We had some naltrexone that we put into her—at the time she still seemed to be breathing and everything else—when we got her on the road,” White said. “That was the difficult part: We had her there [by the house] but we didn’t want to reverse right away just to have her jump up right back in there.”

A Fish and Game officer borrowed an EMT’s stethoscope to listen for breaths or a heartbeat in the frost-coated animal as it lay in the street. As the officer roved around the massive animal in search of signs of life, rescuers gathered around the moose and whispered to each other, wondering what he could hear.

After hours spent struggling against fading light, numbing temperatures, deep snow and an even deeper window well, the outcome was not what they had hoped for. The moose was dead.

“I think she just kind of was exhausted by the end of it, and some of that has to do with [it being] hard to thermal regulate [with] the drugs. We could’ve considered some other options, but our goal was to try and get her up and out as quickly as possible; unfortunately it took a little longer than we wanted,” White said. “Unfortunately, when you mix wildlife in a situation like this, drugs aren’t always the solution to it, but there’s no way we’re going to get her out of there without [tranquilization]. Things don’t always work perfectly. It hits us all hard.”

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