An 800-pound moose that refused to move after it wandered onto Route 2 in Leominster had to be shot by police out of concern for the safety of motorists, Leominster police said.

Officers first encountered the animal around noon Tuesday while chasing a shoplifter from the CVS on Nelson Street, Sergeant Mark Amico said.

The thief was able to outrun police, but officers quickly turned their attention to the giant moose standing 10 feet from the westbound lane of Route 2, Amico said.

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“They were fearful that he might try to cross Route 2,” he said. “That would be serious safety issue.”

Drivers called police later, at 4:30 p.m., to say that the moose had reappeared on the off ramp of Routes 2 and 12, Amico said.

Officers tried to coax the moose back into the woods, but the animal refused to move.

“It was just kind of hanging out in the road. It wasn’t going back into the woods,” Amico said. “It seemed like it was heck-bent on crossing Route 2.”

Leominster officers called State Environmental Police to the scene.

When the moose panicked and started walking into traffic, officers had no choice but to shoot it, Amico said.

“It’s unfortunate, but they had to take public safety first,” he said.

He said moose are fairly uncommon in Leominster.

“We have encountered them in the past but it’s few and far between,” Amico said.