OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma man suspected of trying to build a hunting ground by transporting and releasing feral hogs, which happened to carry a highly infectious viral disease, will be in court this week to face criminal charges, officials said on Monday.
Wesley Kirton, 39, faces a criminal hearing on Friday in Beaver County Court on charges including the illegal transport and handling of feral swine, animal cruelty and releasing feral swine into the wild, prosecutors said.
Kirton’s attorney declined to comment on the case.
Kirton is suspected of transporting the wild hogs to an area in Oklahoma’s western panhandle, which currently does not have feral swine, and then releasing them.
The animals later tested positive for pseudorabies, which Oklahoma wildlife officials said is an infectious disease that can present rabies-like symptoms when transmitted to other animals.
About 40 of Kirton’s pit bull dogs and a dozen wild hogs were quarantined on his 40-acre farm after the hogs tested positive for the disease. The hogs were later eradicated, Oklahoma wildlife and agriculture officials said.
According to law enforcement, Kirton captured the feral hogs in eastern Oklahoma and transported them west to train his dogs to hunt wild swine.
Captain Jerry Flowers, of the Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture, told media that Kirton is suspected of placing his pit bulls into a trailer with the hogs for fights to the death.
“It will be some time before we realize the far-reaching implications of this potential disaster,” Beaver County District Attorney Abby Cash said.
Oklahoma’s panhandle is home to many of the major livestock operations.
“We think there may be at least two remaining feral hogs in the wild,” Cash said.
Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler