Officials from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks plan to continue for two more years the sampling of deer in Lamar County to test for chronic wasting disease.
Russ Walsh, executive wildlife director at MDWFP, said the department needs as many samples as possible to rule out the disease, which is similar to mad cow disease.
“Because we’re using hunter-harvested samples and roadkill samples, it takes a longer period of time to get those samples,” he said. “And also, there can be an incubation period for chronic wasting disease, so if you had animals that had it in early stages, it may be that it’s detected a little bit later.
“So extending the sampling period out for several years would, again, get more samples to increase the probability of detection. (And) if it’s early in the onset, then our probability of detecting would go up over several years.”
Sampling for the disease in Lamar County began after an EF3 tornado struck the area on Jan. 21, 2017, damaging an illegally-operated, high-fence deer operation between Purvis and Hattiesburg and allowing several deer to escape. A prior investigation by the MDWFP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that several deer within the enclosure had been transported from Texas facilities that were linked to animals that had tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
When wildlife officials first searched the operation, 74 deer were counted, but after the tornado damaged about 6,845 feet of the fence, only 21 deer remained in the enclosure.
After the tornado, MDWFP established a surveillance zone within a five-mile radius of the enclosure and asked hunters who harvested a deer in the area to submit the heads for testing. During the 2017-18 deer season, 70 samples were submitted for testing, all of which were returned “not detected for CWD.”
MDWFP officials will continue their normal methods of testing for the disease, by way of roadkill samples and hunter-harvested samples on a voluntary basis.
“We may not have the stations set up for people to drop heads off like they had been, but we’ll continue to run normal surveillances,” Walsh said. “(And) there may be some through taxidermists; we’ve been using taxidermists in that area as well.
“But (it’ll be) primarily through roadkill and hunter-harvested samples.”
Three men eventually pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to the illegal high-fence operation.
Dewayne Slade and Don Durrett pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, which makes in unlawful to import, export, buy, sell or otherwise acquire certain animals or plants for the purpose of interstate commerce. Coleman Virgil Slade pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States government.
Dewayne Slade and Durrett were each sentenced to three years of probation, a $10,000 fine and a $25 special assessment. Coleman Virgil Slade also was sentenced to three years of probation - which included 45 days of radio frequency monitoring - and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and a $100 special assessment.
The Slades are from Purvis, while Durrett is from Aspermont, Texas.
Many of the deer that escaped the enclosure had been fitted with ear tags, so residents who observe any deer with tags are asked to call MDWFP at (800) 237-6278. For more information on chronic wasting disease or to report a sick animal, call (601) 432-2199.