News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news

Wild animals euthanized after recovery operation

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — The foxes, coyotes and bobcats recovered as part of Operation Foxote have been euthanized.

On Saturday, state wildlife officials arrested 18 people in 14 counties, including a Wisconsin man arrested in Limestone County, for the illegal trade, importation and possession of wildlife.

The operation began in Alabama and spread throughout the Southeast. In Alabama, agents seized 25 coyotes, 55 foxes and two bobcats. In addition, they seized one moonshine still and 33 cardinals.

The animals involved were destined for fenced-fox-running enclosures where they would have been running stock for hounds, officials said. Patrons pay a fee, usually about $25, for the privilege of running dogs inside these fenced areas.

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Enforcement Chief Allan Andress said there were two reasons for euthanizing the animals. First, they would have been a health risk for native species, and second, their chances of survival would have been slim because they were removed from their native habitats.

The bodies were sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wild-life Disease Study office in Athens, Ga.

"We had no assurances as to the health of the animals, and live tests for some diseases are not available," Andress said.

Andress said the animals were in small cages or dog runs. The cardinals were already dead and found in a sack. He said agents were surprised to learn the traders were using the songbirds as bait for foxes and coyotes.

Authorities charged the Wisconsin man with 12 counts of illegal transport of game animals for allegedly bringing foxes into the state for sale.

According to Limestone County Sheriff's Department reports, Harold Paul Widder, 53, of Antigo, is out of jail on $12,000 bond.

Andress said Widder allegedly met undercover officers in Limestone County to sell them the foxes and planned to sell foxes elsewhere in the state.

Andress said the operation did not uncover illegal hunts in Limestone, Morgan or Law-rence counties. But there have been reports of illegal hunts in Lawrence County in the past.

"These operations come and go, so it's hard to keep track of them," he said.

More arrests are expected in Alabama, and state fish and wildlife agents in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are pursuing prosecutions in their states for similar violations.

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