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Captive deer from CWD-positive farm roaming free

| Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, 9:10 p.m.

One of 10 captive deer that was meant to be euthanized because of its exposure to chronic wasting disease is instead alive and well and roaming the Pennsylvania countryside.

On Oct. 10, tests results showed that a captive deer that died on a hobby-type deer farm in New Oxford, Adams County, had had wasting disease, or CWD. It was the first case documented within the state

Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture made public the test results a day later. State veterinarian Craig Shultz said then the plan was to “depopulate” the farm – i.e. kill the 10 remaining deer on it – to test them for CWD, too.

That was a necessity because there is no live animal test that can determine if a deer has CWD, and no treatment for the always fatal disease if there was, he said.

Shooters from the United States and Pennsylvania departments of agriculture descended on the farm Thursday to kill the deer. Nine were shot. But the tenth – named Pink 23 – broke through the fence and escaped.

Agriculture officials have been watching the farm ever since, in the hope that the deer would return to a familiar place on its own so they could shoot it. But as of 5 p.m. Monday, the deer – identifiable because of a yellow ear tag – hadn't.

“It's still out there,” said Samantha Krepps, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

What happens next is unclear. Krepps said the two agriculture departments and the Pennsylvania Game Commission are working cooperatively on the issue.

When asked if there was a Plan B for recapturing the deer, Krepps declined to say.

“I'd rather wait on talking about that for a bit yet,” she said.

Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser deferred all questions about the deer to the agriculture department.

In the meantime, the deer's presence on the landscape is a potential threat to the state's wild deer herd, said Kip Adams, a biologist and outreach coordinator for the Quality Deer Management Association in Pennsylvania.

The escaped deer may or may not have wasting disease; no one can say for sure. Test results from the nine deer that were killed on the farm won't be known for several weeks yet.

But should it have the disease, this is “absolutely” the worst time of year for it to have escaped and be roaming around, Adams said.

The rut, or breeding season for deer, is about to get into full swing. Pennsylvania Game Commission research has shown that most adult female deer are bred, on average, in mid-November. Additional research specific to Pennsylvania has shown that in the weeks leading up to that time, deer – bucks and does both – travel much further and more often and come into contact with more deer than is usual, Adams said.

Given that CWD is spread by deer-to-deer contact and by deer coming on contact with plants and soils where CWD-positive deer have been, the fact that a possibly sick deer is moving around and socializing could be bad news, Adams said.

“If you had to pick the one worst time of year for something like this to happen, this would be it,” Adams said. “This is pretty scary.”

Sportsmen, meanwhile, are upset that no one from the department of agriculture released any information about Pink 23's escape to the public. No news releases have been issued in the five days since the deer's escape.

Some hunters have already contacted state lawmakers to air their complaints.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

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