SEYMOUR, Ind. (AP) — Indiana wildlife officials are asking deer hunters in four counties to kill any deer with a yellow tag in its ear in an effort to prevent the spread of a disease that has ravaged deer populations in other states.
The deer being targeted are among 20 that escaped this spring from a Jackson County farm where trophy bucks with huge antlers are bred and sold to private hunting preserves. Seven of the deer are unaccounted for, The Indianapolis Star reported (http://indy.st/TFYCME ).
Department of Natural Resources officials say they are concerned about chronic wasting disease, which has caused havoc in several states, including Wisconsin. The disease hasn't yet shown up in Indiana, but it poses a threat to the state's deer population, which numbers 500,000 to 1 million animals.
A farm in Pennsylvania, where chronic wasting disease was detected, has sold 10 animals to farms in Indiana over the past three years. DNR spokesman Phil Bloom said two were sold to farms in Noble and Whitley counties; the rest went to two facilities in Jackson County, one of which is the site of the escape.
Licensed hunters in Jackson, Bartholomew, Jennings and Scott counties are urged to kill the tagged deer and immediately notify the state, which will get the carcass and test it for the disease. Any motorist who hits a tagged deer is asked to do the same.
Douglas Metcalf, chief of staff for the state Board of Animal Health, said each of the four farms that acquired the Pennsylvania animals is under quarantine, and the animals are being tested for the disease.
Bloom said the case represents a "Pandora's box" created by interstate trafficking in wildlife and says it could have wide-ranging consequences to Indiana's game-farming industry, which brings in $50 million a year.
Rick D. Miller, owner of the 2.5 Karat Game Ranch in Bartholomew County, has a lot to lose if the disease spreads.
Miller keeps between two dozen and 60 elk and white-tail deer on his farm. He collects deer urine to sell to hunters, who use it as a deer attractant. Big "shooter" bucks can be sold to captive hunt facilities for $1,500 to $2,500, and breeding stock can sell for $1,000 to $250,000.
He said he is outraged by the situation and noted that the farm where the deer escaped isn't one of the 385 Indiana deer farms that voluntarily allow officials to test their herds for the disease.
"We don't want these crazy things to happen," said Miller, a former president of the Indiana Deer and Elk Farmers' Association.
Anyone who kills a tagged deer is urged to immediately call (812) 837-9536.
Bloom said of particular interest are any deer with a yellow ear tag and two numbers on it, or any deer with a tag bearing the prefix "IN 764" followed by another four numbers.
Hunters who shoot one of the deer will be issued a new license at no cost.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com