CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wildlife biologists have captured the elk that had been wandering the hills of West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.
The elk, a mature bull that escaped last year from a Pennsylvania captive deer facility, was tranquilized in rural Marshall County Feb. 9 and transported to the West Virginia Wildlife Center at French Creek.
"The elk is being well cared for," said Paul Johansen, the agency's assistant wildlife chief. "We're not sure when or if it will be introduced into the large enclosure where the other elk are kept, though."
Division of Natural Resources officials had worried that the elk might have spread bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis or chronic wasting disease to domestic livestock or wild deer in the area where it had been roaming. Those fears were at least partly allayed after a blood test proved the animal wasn't carrying tuberculosis or brucellosis.
There is no live-animal test for chronic wasting disease, so DNR administrators have ordered the elk to be kept in isolation at the Wildlife Center for the time being.
West Virginians became aware of the elk early last fall, when it showed up near the Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area in Wetzel County. DNR investigators determined that the animal had escaped from a high-fence deer preserve in Greene County, Pa.
The elk wandered back into Pennsylvania and stayed there during the holidays, but reappeared a few weeks ago in Marshall County. Local residents flocked to watch the animal graze near a busy highway.
DNR officials wanted to kill the elk because they feared it might be diseased, but put their plans on hold after their intentions came to light and people started to protest.
Johansen said the creature's capture accomplishes two things: It prevents a potentially diseased animal from interacting further with wild deer or with livestock, and it places the elk in a place where it eventually might be put on public display.