The Great Cherokee County Rocky Mountain Elk Hunt
At press time, eight of 10 Rocky Mountain elk accidentally released in Cherokee County on April 29 were still on the loose three weeks later. The number of escaped elk may climb, too. The elk were all cows that had been bred, and they are due to calve in early June.
According to WRD Biologist Ken Riddleberger, who heads up the division’s special permits unit, the elk had been purchased at Lolli Brother’s auction in Missouri. The 10 elk, valued at $850 apiece, were being transported by David Tritt, of Woodstock, and were destined for Stephen Nedza’s property in Watkinsville. But according to Riddleberger, neither Tritt nor Nedza had authorization to bring the elk into the state.
According to Riddleberger, on Monday, April 26, en trout to Watkinsville, Tritt stopped at his Woodstock home and the elk were unloaded into a barn. During the night of April 29, the 400- to 500-lb. elk apparently knocked down a gate and disappeared into the woods in an area between Hwy 5 and I-575.
The next day, one elk was recaptured; since then one additional elk has been darted and recovery, but the other eight escapees have, to date, avoided effort to recapture them.
It’s a violation of state law for exotic animals to be transported or kept where they may be released, said Riddleberger.
“Obviously, there haven been some violations, but we aren’t sorting out criminal charges until animals are penned.”
As exotics, the animals are not game animals and are not subject to state hunting regulations, but think twice before you grab your .30/06 and head for Cherokee County with visions of filling your freezer with elk steaks.
“The elk are the property of Mr. Nedza, just like they were cattle,” said Riddleberger. “If you shot one of the elk, you would probably be liable to civil action to recover the cost of the property.”
Nedza planned to use the elk as breeding stock. According to Riddleberger, Nedza already raises red deer at his Watkinsville farm.
The state in concerned about the health of the animals and the potential for the spread of diseases to native wildlife. Elk can transmit some diseases to deer.
As required by law, nine of the 10 elk had been tested for brucellosis and tuberculosis within 30 days of being transported, said Riddleberger. The status of the tenth elk was unclear.
Meanwhile, the search for the elk goes on in Cherokee County, with little success.
“They have tried bait, catch pens, dart guns, and they have set up deer stands and even used horses to try to round up the elk,” said Riddleberger.
While the state has the authority to intervene, the first option is to let Nedza and Tritt catch the elk.
“If that’s not successful, then we will have to make a decision about what to do with them,” said Riddleberger.
So far, the elk have remained in one relatively isolated area and have not caused safety problems by roaming onto roadways or by damaging property. Again, legally, if an elk is struck by a vehicle, Nedza is lily to be considered liable for damages.
The elk seem to be coping well in Cherokee County and while they are ranch-raised animals, they have learned quickly to avoid capture. The elk round-up is likely to become more complicated when the elk calve in early June.
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