On November 10, 2007, 18 persons across Alabama were arrested for the illegal trade, importation and possession of live foxes, coyotes and other wildlife. Officers of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division served arrest warrants in 14 counties. Seized in this operation were 25 coyotes, 55 foxes, 2 bobcats, 33 cardinals, and one moonshine still. The arrests are the result of a two-year investigation called "Operation Foxote," which began in Alabama and then extended across the Southeast. More arrests are expected in the near future.
State fish and wildlife agents in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, who were also involved in this investigation, are pursuing prosecution in their states for similar violations in connection with this multi-state investigation.
Total combined charges on all defendants are:
The penalties range from up to a $5,000 fine and 30 days imprisonment for Illegal Importation of Prohibited Species; up to a $500 fine and 6 months imprisonment for Illegal Possession of Live Game Animals, Illegal Transportation of Game Animals, Trapping in Closed Season and Possession of Game Animals in Closed Season; up to a $500 fine for Illegal Sale/Purchase of Game Animals; and a maximum fine of $25 for Possession of Protected Wild Birds.
The animals involved were destined for fenced fox running enclosures where they were being released as running stock for hounds. Foxes confined to fenced running enclosures rarely survive long-term and this creates the demand for a continuous supply of new animals for restocking. In recent years, coyotes have become a popular substitute for foxes. Investigators tracked the movements of major dealers through nine states. They also documented the illegal activity of trappers who captured and sold live foxes and coyotes and of the operators of fenced running enclosures who purchased them. Patrons are charged a fee for the privilege of running dogs inside these fenced areas.
Due to the potential disease and parasite risks posed by the translocation of live wild-caught foxes and coyotes, Alabama prohibited the importation of foxes and coyotes from outside the state in 1994. Alabama law also prohibits the possession and sale of live furbearers such as fox and coyote.
In 1993, coyotes imported from Texas were linked to the introduction of the Texas strain of rabies into Covington County, Ala. In 1994, this same strain of rabies was found in Alachua County, Fla. These two incidents ultimately lead to the depopulation of coyotes and foxes inside two fenced running areas and 24 people having to receive rabies treatment in Florida. Other diseases of concern are distemper and a tapeworm that can infect foxes, coyotes and humans. The tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis, which occurs in wild coyotes and foxes in other areas of the country, is not known to exist in the wild in Alabama. The parasite can be fatal in humans. The animals seized in conjunction with this investigation are being tested for these and a variety of other diseases and parasites as a precautionary measure.
Traditional fox hunters in Alabama hunt unconfined foxes with hounds and the animals have freedom of evasion and escape. Under these conditions, the dogs rarely come into contact with foxes. Hunting dog field trials are permitted by law in Alabama under the condition that dogs not come into contact with live animals. Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Division Director M.N. "Corky" Pugh stated, "Lawful, ethical hunting enjoys a high level of public support in Alabama. Traditional forms of fox hunting embrace the concept of fair chase, and these hunters look on running pens with disdain."
Alabama Conservation Commissioner M. Barnett Lawley praised officers for their diligence during the two-year investigation. "Our agency is charged with enforcing the laws relating to wildlife in Alabama. This particular effort involved cooperation with multiple states and agencies, and I am very pleased with the professionalism and thoroughness our officers demonstrated. Any kind of unethical practice that endangers wildlife or humans cannot be tolerated."
"We would like to express our appreciation to agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Animal Wildlife Services, and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, who were instrumental in the success of this investigation," said Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Enforcement Chief Allan Andress.
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