A Sudbury moose that captured the hearts of a national audience earlier this summer has died.

Oliver the moose dies7:00

Oliver the moose was found wandering on the side of Highway 144 at the end of May by Stephan Michel Desgroseillers. Sudbury Police confirmed the calf was orphaned after his mother was hit by a vehicle in Copper Cliff.

Desgroseillers eventually brought the calf to Wild at Heart, an animal refuge centre in Lively – but not before stopping at a Tim Hortons location, a move that cemented Oliver’s fame, and fulfilled a uniquely Canadian stereotype.

At Wild at Heart, Oliver came under the care of animal supervisor Alicia Irwin.

Alicia Irwin

Alicia Irwin was one of Oliver's caregivers when he was at Wild at Heart Animal Refuge Centre. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

“He was doing very well,” Irwin said of Oliver’s three months in their care. “He started losing his baby coat a month ago and his adult fur started coming in. He was gorgeous. He was pushing 300 pounds and he looked all grown up.”

Oliver was described as “stubborn, playful, and pushy.”

On Saturday of last weekend, Irwin said they noticed Oliver wasn’t bearing weight on one of his back legs. At that time, the centre called a vet who did an X-ray that revealed one of the calf’s leg bones had a spiral fracture.

Oliver was then driven to Espanola for surgery on that leg.

“Wildlife doesn’t do well with anaesthetics generally,” said Irwin, who was sitting in the waiting room during the operation. “The surgery was only supposed to last an hour, but it lasted two.”

It was at the two-hour mark that Oliver went into cardiac arrest, and died of a heart attack.

“They were just getting the plate in at that time, so it was very unfortunate,” Irwin said. “There were four vets and a whole team of vet technicians there. They were the best possible people to be handling that … they were trying to go as fast as they could, but it didn’t work.”

Despite Oliver’s death, Irwin said she doesn’t regret taking Oliver in after he was orphaned, saying he would have died in the wild without his mother.

Next steps for Wild at Heart

Irwin said Oliver’s long-term stay at Wild at Heart re-affirms the need for the centre to have a permanent moose enclosure.

Moose enclosure

Part of the outdoor moose enclosure at Wild at Heart. This is where Oliver was living. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

“Every year we get a moose calf now,” she said. “We really need to get it built, especially to over-winter the moose calves. It’s very important to have a space, especially a predator-proof enclosure.”

Irwin said the refuge centre is hoping to raise funds for the enclosure over the coming seasons.

As for future moose calf orphans, Irwin said she was “heartbroken” by Oliver’s death, but it won’t deter her from helping calves that are brought into the centre.

“You get so attached, so to lose Oliver at the end of the summer was really hard,” she said. “But I know next spring I’ll be right there ready to work with them again, because they’re really wonderful, and I think we’ve figured out enough of their diet to do well.”

“We still have a ways to go, but we’re figuring it out along the way."