LEE COUNTY, S.C. — Conservation Officers with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) served search warrants related to the illegal possession of white-tailed deer at a property in Lee County on Tuesday (6/29/2021). Agents with the Lee County Office of Animal Control were called in to assist with the case when SCDNR Officers found, in addition to several deer, hundreds of squirrels and other animals being kept in crowded, inhumane conditions inside a double-wide mobile home on the property.Animals discovered at the location included armadillos and nutria, an invasive species native to South America. Possession of nutria in South Carolina is potentially a violation of state laws that restrict the importation of non-native wildlife. If nutria become established in a new area, they can cause immense damage to crops and vegetation and destruction to the banks of ditches, lakes, and other water bodies, as well as causing permanent damage to marshes and other wetland habitats, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Based on evidence collected from the scene by SCDNR Officers and Animal Control Agents during the execution of the search warrant, two individuals, Laura Ross and Nicole Lafaivre, were arrested on charges ranging from illegal possession of white-tailed deer to inhumane treatment of animals and illegal importation/possession of non-native wildlife species. Officers noted that more than 200 squirrels and many other small mammals were being kept in cages stacked in the living room of the mobile home, with some roaming free inside the home. As of Tuesday evening, Ross and LaFaivre were being held at the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center pending a bond hearing.
Lee County Animal Control officers and staff, county animal shelter staff, and local veterinarians, assisted by members of SCDNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and Law Enforcement divisions, have been working diligently to secure safe accommodations for the animals confiscated from the property until they can be assessed for potential diseases or other health issues.
“Right now, our number one concern is the welfare of these animals,” said SCDNR Deputy Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Emily Cope. “It’s a very challenging situation to deal with, mainly because of the sheer number of animals that were being kept on this site, and the deplorable conditions that existed there. We are working with Animal Control to determine the best way to move forward on this, and the help we’ve gotten from local veterinarians has been invaluable.”
The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine will assist SCDNR and the county with testing of some of the animals. Where possible, species native to South Carolina that were confiscated from the site and found to be disease-free may be released into the wild, although the disposition of each animal will have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
“SCDNR takes the inhumane treatment of animals very seriously,” said SCDNR Deputy Director for Law Enforcement, Col. Chisolm Frampton. “It’s heartbreaking when our officers encounter a situation like this, and we greatly appreciate the assistance of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and all of the other agencies and individuals involved yesterday. It’s important for us to be clear that this kind of treatment of wildlife will not be tolerated in South Carolina.”