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Illegal deer destroyed, tested

Fourteen whitetail deer discovered in a pen in Covington County were destroyed Wednesday night by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and their carcasses have been taken to Auburn's diagnostic lab. The deer were allegedly imported into the state from Wisconsin illegally, and in efforts to contain the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) that is affecting deer and elk herds in the West, Midwest and Canada,

such importations have been outlawed. The carcasses will be tested for the disease.

"There are no documented cases of CWD in Alabama or any other southeastern state," said Corky Pugh, director of the Division of Wildlife and Fresh-water Fisheries for the Depart-ment of Conservation. "By reinforcing our laws against the importation of deer, we can keep it that way."

Pugh confirmed that the department's investigation did reveal the deer had been imported. No charges will be leveled against Joe Powell, however, since the statute of limitations has run out. An unidentified source alerted officials to the presence of the deer. Pugh not have immediate details concerning the investigation, including how long the deer had been in the state and how they were transported here.

Keeping deer in open pens is not necessarily illegal in Alabama.

"It depends on the situation," said Pugh. "In general, holding wildlife in captivity without a permit is against the law. It depends on the size of the enclosure - it may or may not be applicable.

"What is illegal is the importation of deer, elk or other cervids," he added.

According to the department's website, Chronic Wasting Disease is a fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of deer and elk. This disease belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE's). The disease attacks the brains of infected deer and elk and causes animals to become emaciated (skinny), display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions, and die. The disease has been found in either captive or wild deer in nine western and midwestern states and two Canadian provinces. After 16 years of study, CWD has not been known to be transmissible to humans or domestic livestock, and is thought to be transmitted through saliva, urine and feces. Mule deer, whitetail deer and elk are the only known three species that contract the disease.

The state has had a regulation banning the importation of all cervids (members of the deer family) into Alabama since 1973. Recently the fines for violating this regulation were significantly increased. The Division also started an active monitoring program for CWD during the 2001-02 hunting season. According to the Department of Conservation, a random sample of over 90 hunter-killed deer were tested for the presence of CWD and none of the deer tested positive for the disease.

Citizens of Alabama can assist the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with its CWD monitoring program. The first and most important way to assist is to report any transport of live deer or elk on Alabama's roads and highways. Please call the Operation Game Watch line immediately at 1-800-272-4263 if you see live deer or elk being transported in Alabama. Contacting the Division immediately makes it more likely the deer or elk will be intercepted before they can be released.

The public also can help the Division in their active monitoring program. A CWD infected deer will behave abnormally, showing little of their normal wariness or fear of humans. Infected animals also will become emaciated (skinny). It is important to note that other diseases may exhibit similar symptoms.

Please call the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Office nearest you or the Operation Game Watch line at 1-800-272-4263 if you spot a deer that exhibits these clinical signs of CWD.