Asian deer species spotted in Rockport

ROCKPORT – A deer, native to Asia, has been spotted in Rockport.

Curtis Taylor, chief of the wildlife section for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, confirmed reports of a sika deer sighting in Rockport. Taylor said a DNR official received an email earlier this week of a cellphone photo of the deer.

“What I got was an email sent to one of our guys,” Taylor said. “‘A mystery animal from Rockport that looks like a deer, but it is not a deer. ‘What is it?'”

One person who saw a photo of the deer said it was obviously not a whitetail.

“The antlers were smaller in size and came out of the front of the head. And there was no tail,” they said, declining to be identified.

Taylor said DNR officials identified the animal as a sika deer.

“Sika deer are obviously not native to West Virginia or the United States,” he said. “Obviously, this is an escape or it was turned loose.”

Sika deer are one of the few deer species that retains its spots after maturity. They are found in temperate, subtropical forests of eastern Asia, preferring areas where snowfall does not exceed eight inches. They tend to forage in patchy clearings of forests. The deer have been introduced into other parts of the world, including the United States. Taylor said there are some sika deer in parts of Maryland and Virginia.

Taylor said DNR officials have encountered sika deer before but typically in a captive situation. The Rockport sika deer likely escaped from an enclosure, possibly in Ohio.

“It’s not on any of our captive cervid inventories,” Taylor said. “We have had them swim the (Ohio) river.”

Taylor said officials are checking with Ohio wildlife officials.

The DNR has no regulations dealing with exotic animals, Taylor said.

“And it is exotic,” he said. “If it is out there wandering around on its own without tags, we have no regulations on taking it.”

Taylor, citing state regulations, said chapter 20 of the DNR’s rules and regulations limits officials to native wildlife.

In February a pair of water buffalo, a species also native to Asia, were found roaming Jackson County. Those animals were reportedly left behind from a Jackson County game farm that closed last year. Local residents said the water buffaloes were just one of the animals left behind. They told the Associated Press the farm’s owners opened the gates, allowing the animals to roam free. The buffaloes were isolated by state officials and purchased by a Mason County farmer.

“Everyday is something different,” Taylor said. “You never know when you come into this office.”