CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Agriculture indicated the escape of a captive cervid in Jackson County in early October was dealt with soon after the incident occurred.
“We did receive notification from the farm about this incident which occurred on October 1st. The red stag had escaped to try to mate with another captive stag,” said Crescent Gallagher of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. “Within 24 hours, the stag had returned home for food and we were notified again that the stag was back in the pen.”
Jurisdiction over captive cervid facilities in West Virginia was transferred from the Division of Natural Resources to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture two years ago by the legislature. The transfer, heavily backed by the administration of former Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, was to aimed at easing restrictions and enhancing deer farming as a more profitable pursuit for West Virginia growers.
Under the rules laid out in the transfer of jurisdiction, any escape must be reported to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture within eight hours. Failure to report the escape could result in the immediate forfeiture of the cervid license.
“Larry Williams who runs the cervid program and Dr. Maxwell the state veterinarian discussed this issue and decided no further action was needed to be taken because the stag was from a certified herd,” Gallagher told MetroNews. “In short, we were properly notified of the escaped stag and the department decided no further actions were necessary after the stag had returned home.”
Department of Agriculture identified the owner of the animal as Anita Cabb. The stag got away from a facility in the Ravenswood area. Pictures of the fugitive stag became widely shared on social media. The discussion led to remarks during the public portion of Sunday’s Natural Resources Commission meeting at Chief Logan Conference Center in Logan County by West Virginia Bow Hunters Association President Justin Hettick.
“This is EXACTLY what the WVBA has preached from this podium for years. Escape from a captive cervid farm is the worst case scenario. Less than two years after the transfer of oversight, we’ve already had a major breach,” Hettick told Natural Resources Commissioners. “Deer farms in other states have historically been breeding grounds for CWD. I hope we don’t need to establish a CWD containment zone in Jackson County.”
Gallagher confirmed there had been one other incident of deer escaping a captive facility since the law changed. The escape occurred in 2016 at a facility in Marion County when two whitetail deer got away from their farm after a storm. One of those animals was captured and put down. Testing revealed the escaped animal was disease free, including chronic wasting disease. There is no live test for CWD.