From the Arizona Game and Fish Department
-- Wildlife poaching in Arizona increased during 2009 and wildlife violations reached a record level, said Arizona Game and Fish Department officers.
“Arizona experienced a record year for wildlife violations that include outright poaching. With that, we are also experiencing a record number of reported and solved wildlife crimes. Call it a target rich environment, if you will,” said Officer Ken Dinquel, who operates the Operation Game Thief Program.
In calendar year 2009 the Operation Game Thief Program received 768 reported wildlife related violations through the Operation Game Thief Program, which is a significant increase from 2008 when there were 451 OGT reports and in 2006 when there were 360 reports.
Those 2009 violations included 416 big game violations, including those involving poaching. Fifteen of those cases involved mule deer, three cases involved whitetail deer, 16 cases involved elk, two cases involved black bear, two cases involved antelope and one case involved a bighorn sheep ram.
Investigators solved 39 of those cases but many others remain open or under investigation. The public is one of the keys to combating poaching and other wildlife violations. In 2009, the Operation Game Thief Program paid 39 rewards totaling $14,125 to conscientious citizens.
Dinquel observed that most of the cases resulted from a blatant disregard for the law and Arizona wildlife resources. In some situations it was a target of opportunity while in others, it was monetarily motivated. Regardless of the reason, these crimes were committed because the violators didn’t think they would be caught – they were wrong.”
The unlawful shooting or taking of wildlife is not an act of responsible hunters; this is done by unethical poachers, Dinquel explained. Other cases remain unsolved due to lack of evidence. “Many incidents get reported where a concerned citizen finds evidence of an illegally killed animal, but the scene is in a deteriorated state and no investigative leads are discovered,” he said.
“As with many poaching cases, we need help from the public. Often times these crimes are committed in remote locations without many people around,” he said. “Still, someone may have been in the area and may have seen or heard something associated with these cases.”
In some cases, he said, someone may have information but is apprehensive about coming forward. “We want to encourage those with information or suspicions to call our Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-352-0700 to help stop poaching. Callers can remain confidential.”
Reward money comes from fines and civil assessments levied against wildlife law violators and donations from private citizens and sportsmen conservation organizations. Anyone with information about wildlife violations can call the department’s Operation Game Thief Hotline toll free at (800) 352-0700, or report them online at www.azgfd.gov/thief. Callers may be eligible for a reward of up to $8,000, or more, for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of wildlife violators.