Escaped Elk Shot In Madison County

WRD attempting to trace history of illegally imported elk in northeast Georgia.

GON Staff | July 1, 2005

After a week-long investigation, WRD was able to locate the owner of a mystery cow elk that was found roaming the banks of the Broad River in Madison County in early June.

The elk saga began with a phone call to the Wildlife Resources Division on June 12.

“I was on call and got the page about 8 p.m. Sunday evening,” said Ken Riddleberger, WRD game management supervisor in Gainesville. The call was from Madison County Conservation Ranger Shane Sarton, who had responded to a call to the TIPs line from a hunt club on the Broad River in Madison County near the Madison, Franklin county line.

“Shane said, ‘I’m here on a piece of property with some guys who have a hunt club, and I am looking at an elk,’” said Ken.

The elk was a cow, estimated to weigh about 600 pounds.

“It was your basic garden-variety wapiti,” said Ken.

WRD personnel load the headless carcass of the Madison County cow elk onto a trailer. Tissue samples from the elk are being tested to be certain that the unlicensed elk was not carrying any diseases.

Ken asked Shane to keep in contact with the elk until others in the WRD chain of command could be contacted.

WRD Assistant Director Todd Holbrook was consulted, as was someone with the WRD special permits office, the office that licenses anyone holding exotic animals. According to the special permits office, no one in the Madison County area was legally licensed to hold an  elk.

By the time the calls were made, it was getting dark in Madison County. Since the animal was in hand, WRD decided to move quickly. Shane was instructed to put the elk down by shooting it.

“Shane borrowed a .270 from one of the guys in the hunt club,” said Ken.  “At the time they were standing about 30 yards from the Broad River, and they were between the elk and the river. Shane shot it. He made a good shot, as we found out later, but the elk ran directly to the river and fell in.”

The Broad River was up and muddy due to heavy rain that weekend, and the elk was swept away.

The next morning, Ken, Shane and  Brett Sexton, the Wilson Shoals WMA area manager, began to search by boat along a five-mile section of the river from the Hwy 281 bridge north. The river had risen during the night, and the elk was not located.

“We had 48 hours to get the head and brain stem to SCWDS (Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study),” said Ken. “Our main concern was that we wanted to alleviate any concern that the animal might have chronic wasting disease (CWD).”

On Tuesday morning, a half-dozen WRD personnel scattered out along the Broad River to search for the missing elk.

“We found it about 50 yards downstream of where it had been shot,” said Ken. “It had pushed up under a couple of logs that had fallen in the river.”

The carcass was tied off to the log. The head was secured, then cut from the body. It was put on ice and taken directly to the SCWDS labs in Athens.

WRD personnel then had to deal with removing the headless carcass.

“We pulled it down to the Broad River Outpost, a canoe and kayak rental operation,” said Ken. “We used a winch on an RTV to pull the animal out of the river and then pulled it up onto a trailer.”

The carcass was taken to the SCWDS facility in Athens and incinerated.

According to Ken, it will take three to four weeks to get test results on the tissue taken from the animal.

“The guys at the hunt club said they had been seeing it around for a couple of weeks,” said Ken.

The elk had a yellow, plastic ear tag in one ear, said Ken.

“On one side was a series of letters, INDBR,” he said. “On the opposite side was 2BE.”

On Friday, June 17, 2005, WRD officials re-interviewed a person in the area who is permitted to hold exotics, but not elk. He admitted that the elk was his. WRD declined to identify the individual while the investigation is continuing.

“Our biggest priority is to get all  the history of where the animal came from so that we can trace it back to the original herd,” said Ken.

Because the elk was was not a permitted animal, any number of charges, including illegal importation of an animal might apply. At press time, no charges had been filed. The WRD, however, considers this a extremely serious incident. The importation of an illegal animal carrying CWD could jeopardize Georgia’s deer herd.

“Potentially, this could have been devastating (to the Georgia deer herd) to have an exotic cervid that we don’t know where it came from running through the deer herd,” said Ken. “CWD is our biggest concern. But there are other diseases that could come in through an uncertified animal. That’s why we acted as we did when we found the elk. It just wasn’t worth the risk of losing it.”

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