ANNAPOLIS – Responding to a number of recent incidents involving illegally held captive deer, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) thoroughly reviewed its longstanding policy and is issuing this statement to clearly inform Marylanders on the Department’s policy on the matter.

Captive deer pose a significant threat to Maryland’s native wildlife and a potential threat to domestic livestock and people. Because captive deer are often kept in confined areas at high densities, the risk of disease transmission grows exponentially especially from captive deer to free ranging wildlife. Wild animals held in captivity often suffer higher stress brought about by a reduction in immunity from nutritional deficiencies or the stress of captivity.

“The advent of potential disease pathogens spreading across the country by the transport of captive deer demands that we remain more cautious than ever,” said DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks. “Maryland is fortunate that the latest, and deadliest, ecological threat, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), has not found its way into our State. The goal of our policy is to ensure Maryland never has to suffer the consequences of a catastrophic disease outbreak.”

CWD was first isolated in a captive deer herd and many of the concerns associated with the potential transmission of CWD point to captive deer as a likely catalyst for the next outbreak.

“Thousands of wild deer and elk have been killed in the Midwest and Western states in an attempt to prevent further spread of the ecological fire that was ignited when free-roaming deer species were exposed to CWD in those states,” Franks continued. “The ecological, social and economic losses will take years to recover.”

Maryland’s legislature has granted legal authority for DNR to restrict possession of wildlife, including deer. In addition, because of the ongoing ecological, human health and operational capital concerns, the Department has maintained a highly restrictive policy on captive deer permit requests.

Importation of deer from out-of-state has not been permitted since 1984; and in 2002, DNR passed regulations placing more restrictive conditions (fencing, tagging and testing requirements) on deer licensees due to concerns over the spread of CWD. At that time, CWD had been identified in 12 states and two provinces, and the potential for devastating impacts on wild herds was well recognized. These regulations significantly limit the possession, importation and exportation of deer in Maryland.

Largely due to the more restrictive regulations, the number of deer licensees in the state dropped from 27 in 2002 to 20 in 2004. Even as the number of legally licensed deer herds decrease, the Department has become aware of additional illegally held animals. Although legally held deer still pose a potential threat, our current regulations seek to minimize the collective concerns by maintaining tight control of the movement of deer and reducing the potential for escape. However, illegally held deer heighten these concerns since movement has not been regulated, fencing is often inadequate and no monitoring of the herd has been conducted by any State agency.

To ensure, Marylanders take this threat seriously and take appropriate action, DNR has revised its enforcement policy regarding the disposition of illegally held deer. Owners of illegally held deer will be given up to 90 days to find suitable out-of-state facilities for their deer and DNR will assist will this process. No citations will be issued during the initial “amnesty” period. If the owner has not found a new home for the deer within the timeframe, DNR will seek consent from the owner to allow DNR to humanely euthanize and test the deer for disease. Because of the significant health risks, at no time will the owner be permitted to release captive deer to the wild.

“The best way to prevent these animals from suffering is not obtaining exotic “pets” in the first place. People seeking animal companions should consider adopting a domestic animal instead of fueling the exotic-animal industry,” stated Lisa Wathne, Captive Exotics Specialist for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “If true sanctuaries cannot be found, authorities’ only humane option may be euthanizing exotic animals, since allowing them to suffer in substandard facilities is simply unacceptable.”

For more information on DNR’s Captive Deer Policy please visit www.dnr.maryland.gov or call 410-260-8559.


Captive Deer Policy – FAQ

Why is the DNR refining its policy on captive deer? There is an increasing awareness by the Department of illegally held wild animals. Wild animals kept as pets are one of the greatest threats to people and our wild resources. With the advent of new and deadly pathogens for deer, the Department’s response is not only appropriate, but biologically responsible.

Why is it illegal to keep deer as pets? Captive deer pose a significant threat to Maryland’s native wildlife and a potential threat to domestic livestock and people. Because captive deer are often kept in confined areas at high densities the risk of disease transmission grows exponentially. Wild animals held in captivity often suffer higher stress brought about by a reduction in immunity from nutritional deficiencies or the stress of captivity. There is also a significant risk of transmission of diseases from captive deer to free ranging wildlife.

What gives DNR the authority to regulate captive deer? In 2002, DNR adopted a new regulation, which prohibits the possession of live Cervids which includes white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, black-tailed deer, caribou (reindeer), fallow deer, roe deer, musk deer, swamp deer, Pampas deer, tufted deer, red deer, and sika deer.

What should I do if I currently have a deer in possession? Please call the Wildlife and Heritage Service at 410-260-8559.

What happens after I contact the DNR? Owners of captive deer will be given up to 90 days to find suitable out-of-state facilities for their deer. DNR will assist the owner with finding an out-of-state home for the deer. No citations will be issued during the initial “amnesty” period, however if the owner does not find a new home for the deer within the alloted timeframe, DNR will seek consent from the owner to allow DNR to humanely euthanize and test the deer for disease.

Can I get a permit to legally keep my deer? No. DNR has not issued any new permits since 1984.

Can I release my deer into the wild? No. Because of the significant health risks, at no time will the owner be permitted to release captive deer to the wild.

Who will pay for the cost of relocating the deer? All costs associated with relocating the deer will be the responsibility of the person in possession of the deer.

Why is it necessary to euthanize deer in order to test for potential disease? At this time, the only approved test for diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease and Rabies requires the animal to be humanely euthanized in order to test a portion of the animal’s brain.

If I am a current permit holder how will I be notified if there are any changes to my permit? DNR will mail you a letter advising you of any changes and correction actions that need to be completed.