State seizes deer from Southampton property

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 11, 2007

FRANKLIN—Deer that were in the care of a local rehabilitator were removed from their pen off Delaware Road in Southampton County Thursday by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries officials.

George Watson, a state-licensed Category 2 rehabber who has been rehabilitating deer &uot;between 25 and 30 years,&uot; said that a couple of weeks ago, the officials showed up with search warrants for the pen and the scale house where he works, and for his home in Boykins. The pen and scale house are at the same location.

&uot;They told me that they had information that I had been putting chips in the deer,&uot; Watson said. &uot;They removed all of the syringes and medical supplies I had for the deer, as well as five picture albums, and ear tags as well as identification chips. They even took medicine that we had for our dog.&uot;

Watson said he was told that he couldn’t even so much as mark the deer with paint, which he used to do so he could tell them apart to properly keep up with their medications.

&uot;I was also told (by VDGIF) that I couldn’t put ear tags on them or use the chips. The chips I had weren’t the type used for tracking animals, they were for identification purposes. I was going to use them so that if the area hunt club killed any deer, I could check to see if they had been healthy—(in other words) how my rehabbing is.&uot;

Watson said he never used the ear tags or the chips.

Watson said he began receiving comments from the state agency about mid-August when he was visited by a VDGIF wildlife biologist who told him he had to release his deer by Sept. 15, although he could feed them until Oct. 1. Watson said the rules set by VDGIF for rehabbers allow 180 days for the rehabbing process.

&uot;But they ignored that rule,&uot; he said. &uot;My first one would not have been released until Dec. 5.&uot; Watson said he told the biologist that he was not ready to release the deer and was told that, &uot;there would be consequences.&uot;

Watson said, &uot;I called the chief of the game commission and told him I didn’t want to release them because there was a pig-picking (coming up in a few days) and because of the traffic, I was afraid the fawns would get hit on the road.&uot;

Watson said the chief returned his call the same day to tell him not to release the deer until he called again to tell him to do so.

On Sept. 27, Watson came back from lunch to his workplace to discover two VDGIF officials in his deer pen.

&uot;They had cut the lock to the pen, which cost me $12 to replace,&uot; he said. &uot;They didn’t show me a search warrant until they were ready to leave.

&uot;They all have my cell phone number, I don’t know why they had to cut the lock.&uot;

Watson discovered later that officials were also searching his home, the day the supplies and tags were seized.

He said he was visited Oct. 4 by officials again, who told him that wildlife biologists were coming the week of the 8th to &uot;dart (sedate with darts) all of the deer and move all of them away.&uot;

Watson said, &uot;I have a perfect place to release them —probably 2,000 acres of woodland.&uot;

About 10 minutes later, he said, about 10 different VDGIF officials in 10 vehicles, pulling a horse trailer, showed up at the pen.

&uot;My son and I offered to put the deer in pet carriers but they said they were going to do it their way and for us not to interfere,&uot; he said.

&uot;They darted them, then ear tagged them, which I was told not to do. They dragged the fawns to the horse trailer when they had more than enough help to pick them up.

&uot;During this episode, they confiscated both of my cell phones, as well as the company cell phone.

&uot;They wouldn’t tell me where they were taking the deer. They just said they were going to a preserve.&uot;

Watson said he felt like the chief had not owned up to the initial advice he gave Watson to hold the deer until he called.

&uot;I think he could have stopped this,&uot; Watson said.

Gwen Dean, assistant director of information and education for VDGIF said not a whole lot of information could be released at this time, as the investigation is still ongoing.

&uot;At this point, I can let you know that the fawns were moved to an undisclosed area and were released unharmed by biologists.&uot;

Dean said the investigation should be completed in approximately seven to 10 days.

For more coverage of this story, see Wednesday’s print edition of The Tidewater News.