After swimming across Lake Champlain from New York to South Hero, Vermont, a moose drowned on Saturday because onlookers were crowding the shore to take the animal’s photo, according to the Associated Press.
The moose initially made it to land but receded back into the lake because it likely felt threatened by the large group of people, Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen told local outlet The Islander. Back in the water, it became too exhausted and drowned.
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“It was struggling pretty good at that point,” Fish and Game Warden Robert Currier told the AP on Monday. “We were waiting for a boat to respond to try to assist it, but before the boat arrived, it had drowned… It was really rough out there, probably 4- to 5-foot swells and high wind.”
Once the boat arrived, Currier boarded it and used a rope to pull the animal’s body ashore.
The Grand Isle County Sheriff did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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According to a member of the crowd who snapped a picture of the moose, Bernadette Toth, there were about six people hanging around the shore when the moose made it to land. Toth added that the area is well-traveled and near a bike path.
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“They made it sound like it was this big mob of people,” Toth said to the AP. “No, this is a heavy trafficked area for South Hero… That is always a very busy, busy area.”
The response to the incident on social media has been intense, with many criticizing the onlookers.
So sad. That was the moose’s natural habitat. He belonged there, not cruel photo-seeking humans. Shame on them. Poor moose. What a wasted life of a living being.
— Monica1981 (@Monica19815) September 3, 2018
Poor animal. Those people should be prosecuted
Crowded by onlookers on shore, moose drowns in Vermont lake https://t.co/wzc7T7yPSk
— Cappy (@capseyes_cappy) September 3, 2018
Leave the Moose the hell alone. If you can’t stand 100 ft back for the photo. Our Moose aren’t seen often and the his one is seen and now it’s dead. It died a slow and sad death. I hope those crappy photos were worth it, Moose killers. https://t.co/zfuJRMBhg0
— Rachael Alexandra (@EyeDelights) September 3, 2018
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But the far bigger concern for local wildlife authorities is that tourists and residents alike understand the dangers of approaching a moose.
“Don’t crowd the moose,” Currier told local TV station WCAX. “If a moose feels threatened, it’s going to respond either by leaving the area or … with aggression, and obviously we don’t want anybody to be the victim of the latter of those two.”