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July 15, 2014

Frankendeer, Captive Hunts, and Captive Politicians

We know that Washington lobbyist and PR operative Rick Berman has shilled for seal clubbers, puppy millers, elephant abusers in the traveling circus industry, and all sorts of factory farming interests. His career portfolio also includes folks who peddle tobacco to teens, enable drunk drivers, promote risky tanning beds, and inject corn syrup, trans fats and mercury-laden fish into American diets. Now he’s added another animal abusing group to that list – captive hunters.

Deer
The United States may have upwards of 25 million free-roaming, wild deer. We don't need to breed more in captivity. Photo: John Harrison

Yesterdayreporter Ryan Sabalow, who conducted an 18-month investigation into the world of cervid ranching and captive hunting of deer for the Indianapolis Star, wrote that the industry has hired Berman as its shill  too, specifically to help override the Missouri governor’s veto of a captive deer ranching bill. The lawmakers pushing for deer farms – against the wishes of the Missouri Department of Conservation – are the same ones pushing a “right to farm” measure on the August 5th ballot.

If that measure, Amendment 1, passes, it could forever protect puppy mills, captive hunting operations, hog factories, and other “agricultural” operations from any state regulation whatsoever.

Earlier this year, Sabalow authored a remarkable four-part series, “Buck Fever,” which exposed the breeding and captive shooting of “Frankendeer” featuring bizarrely enormous antlers. The practice of breeding and raising these mutant deer – who are shot at in fenced hunting preserves – threatens native wildlife, livestock and our food supply with potentially deadly diseases and imposes a substantial cost upon taxpayers for multi-million-dollar government eradication efforts.

Sabalow’s report notes that chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found in 22 states, first detected in captive deer herds before being found in wildlife that interacted with the captive populations. And bovine tuberculosis has spread from deer farms to cattle in at least four states. The evidence is overwhelming, with wildlife officials citing deer escaping from farms and blending in with wild populations, and researchers in Michigan setting up remote cameras along deer fences to document nose-to-nose contact between captive and wild animals. After CWD-infected deer were found on a Missouri preserve, others were found in the wild within two miles of the pen—but nowhere else in the state.

Hunters interviewed for the story rightly criticized the shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens, seeing it as a mockery of fair chase. At the Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Bland, Missouri, “one bull elk with a tag in its ear [was] lazily chewing its cud in a grassy meadow. It didn’t bother to turn its head as the Durango drove past…[The owner] paid about $4,500 to have the animal shipped in a few weeks earlier from a farm in South Dakota. He said he’d charge the client who put in his order to kill it about $6,500.”

The trial of one Indiana captive hunt operator included video footage of “a white-tailed deer with majestic antlers…dying of pneumonia, so sickly that a ranch hand had to poke it with a sharp stick to get it to stand. On wobbly legs, it toppled over in a snowy thicket…it appeared to be propped into a standing position, a branch through its antlers. A few yards away, a camouflaged hunter crouched in the snow, his rifle at the ready. A cameraman stood behind him filming the action, all part of a service for which the hunter paid $15,000. In the video, the hunter fires and the deer collapses, legs twitching in the snow…the hunt took place inside a 1-acre pen.”

Is that what Missouri wants, and then to protect this kind of cruelty and “sport” from any regulation?

How often do we see an irresponsible industry putting the rest of society at risk, seeking handouts from the federal government, and expecting the public to clean up the mess it has created? The people who breed tigers and lions for roadside zoos and photo ops dump these dangerous predators into communities, threatening public safety and fobbing off the millions of dollars in costs for their lifetime care to nonprofit sanctuaries. Burmese pythons and boa constrictors peddled over the Internet become established in the natural environment and wipe out native birds and mammals. Millions of dogs churned out by large-scale puppy mills cost unsuspecting pet owners in heartbreak and veterinary bills, and displace healthy dogs who would otherwise be adopted from shelters and spared euthanasia.

The remarkable thing is, the nation may have upwards of 25 million free-roaming, wild deer –the number one game species in the United States in terms of spending and hunter participation. If there’s any species we don’t need to breed in captivity, it’s white-tailed deer. But the greed of some, and the trophy lust of others, have been sufficient motivators to drive the establishment of 10,000 of these deer farms throughout the United States, posing tangible threats to native wildlife and to farm animals – and therefore to the established hunting and farming industries. 

States should follow the lead of Florida, which recently banned the import of captive deer. We don’t need any more of these operations, and they certainly don’t need immunity from regulation as proposed by Republican lawmakers in Missouri. Governor Nixon has it right, and his veto of a captive deer ranching and hunting bill should stand. And on August 5, Missouri voters should reject the second part of their plan – by turning down a ballot measure, concocted by the Farm Bureau and loyally shepherded to passage by Republican lawmakers, that amounts to a get-out-of-jail pass not only for captive hunters but also for puppy millers and foreign-owned hog factories.

Paid for by The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, CEO, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037. 

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