Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Utah Experiences 30% Increase in Number of Poached Animals

A wildlife officer holding up a skull of a poached deer.

State wildlife officials have recently stated that Utah has recently experienced a 30 percent increase in the number of animals poached over the last two years. Authorities indicated that more than 1,287 animals were illegally hunted last year, compared to 958 two years ago. The figure from 2014 is anticipated to increase as officers found more kills from last year, but officials said that poaching still highly underreported. According to Captain Mitch Lane, most poaching cases begin with an animal either reported of found dead by officers. He further added that although authorities can conclude that an animal did not die of natural causes, it is difficult to determine how the animal was killed or who did it. In addition, ballistics tests are not much use without a firearm to compare bullets and other evidence collected at a scene of the crime. Instead, investigators depend on information from the public and people who either witness and animal killed or talk to someone bragging about poaching. Mike Kinghorn, a wildlife officer from Box Elder County, indicated that deer were among the most poached animals last year. These animals are primarily targeted for their antlers and carcasses are often left decapitated. In addition to deer, other animals targeted by poachers last year included bears, bison, eagles, elk, a desert tortoise, and a pelican. The pelican case is under investigation by Mr. Kinghorn, who indicated that a motorist reported hearing a gunshot and seeing the bird fall down from the sky in the city of Harrisville. However, evidence was lost after animal control officers responded and got rid of the body before a wildlife officer got there. While it is unclear why the number of animals poached animals has skyrocketed in recent years, Captain Lane stated that the total changes from year to year. The increase could be due to more wildlife officers patrolling the areas and investigating cases.

It is extremely disheartening to see that Utah has experienced such a spike in poaching of its native wildlife. But what is even more disturbing is that wildlife officers lack the necessary tools and resources to help them with poaching. For example, they are unable to perform ballistics tests without firearms to compare bullets and other evidence collected at a scene of the crime. Instead, all they are doing is relying on the public for vital information about poaching activities. This does little to help in combating poaching. Just as law enforcement has access to essential tools and resources as well as information from general public to help in crime investigations, wildlife officials should also have access to these two components vital for fighting poaching and other wildlife crimes. Another disturbing fact about this ongoing issue was the pelican poaching case in which animal control officers disposed of the evidence before any wildlife officers got to the scene. This was an extremely outrageous act, especially when it involves groups of people fully committed to the cause of ensuring the well-being of animals. By disposing of the pelican carcass, the animal control officers involved are a complete and utter disgrace to their organization and should be prosecuted under full extent of the law. Furthermore, Utah's wildlife officers need to join forces with the state's law enforcement agencies in tackling this ongoing poaching issue. Just working alone as a wildlife organization does little to make a difference to the natural environment and its inhabitants.

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