For weeks, a dedicated group of wildlife lovers have followed a young moose as he weaves his way north through Minnesota.
Members of the group take to social media to excitedly share photos and videos of his journey, which they say started in Iowa at the end of September and has continued north through Fairmont, Hutchinson and Melrose.
When the moose hunkered down in northwestern Stearns County for about a week members of the "Central MN Moose on the Loose" page on Facebook waited with bated breath for news that he safely crossed Interstate 94 near Sauk Centre.
There were sightings of the moose loping through harvested cornfields, nestled in tall grass and even prancing through the parking lot of a rural business stocked with dozens of all-terrain vehicles. But he still hadn't made it safely across the busy freeway.
"We were thinking it just didn't know where to cross," said Brenda Johnson of Dassel, who runs the Facebook page.
Finally, on Sunday, the group got good news — a sighting near Long Prairie.
"That was the best day ever," Johnson said. "He was finally north of 94."
Johnson started the Facebook group in 2018 after sightings of a moose that year in central Minnesota, which is unusually far south for those animals. News of that moose's fate — it was hit by a semi — devastated the few hundred members and the page went mostly dormant until September. That's when a moose was spotted in northwestern Iowa — exceptionally far south.
In early October, sources reported the moose had crossed the border into Minnesota, and pictures and videos started trickling into the "Moose on the Loose" page again.
"Now here we are 16,000 members later," Johnson said with a laugh. "We've been having fun tracking it."
Todd Froberg, big game program coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the 3,300 or so moose in the state typically stay in northern Minnesota, which is already on the southern cusp of their boreal forest habitat. So when moose wander down to central or southern Minnesota, especially in agricultural areas with sprawling fields, they "stick out like a sore thumb," he said.
"I would say this one's fairly unique," he said. "I think it's probably just out searching for a home territory or other moose."
Moose have been known to act strangely and leave their usual habitat if they're infected with a roundworm called brainworm. But this famous moose, a young male, seems to be healthy, Froberg said.
Paynesville resident Bernie Stang, a member of the moose Facebook group, photographed it just south of Grove City in Meeker County in late October after searching for him all weekend.
"My eyes didn't believe what I was seeing at first," she said. "We drove around for two days, and here he is. We just got lucky. It was golden hour. That's what every photographer dreams about."
On Monday, the moose was spotted near Browerville in Todd County, Johnson said.
"My assumption is that it's going to cruise along Long Prairie River — they like to travel along riverbeds — towards Staples or Motley. But who knows?" she said.
Froberg anticipated the moose continuing its trek north because moose, in general, like cooler temperatures. And while this moose's journey has been atypical, the DNR won't respond to moose out of their native range unless there's a safety concern or the animal appears to be sick or injured.
"Other than that, we're going to let it be a moose," he said.