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Arrest made in Arizona bighorn-sheep poaching case

May 20, 2010 |  8:05 am

Bighorn A follow-up to an item previously posted on Outposts:

The Arizona Game and Fish Department has arrested and charged an individual with four wildlife law violations in connection with the alleged illegal killing of a bighorn sheep ram near the southern shore of Canyon Lake, northeast of Apache Junction.

Though two bighorn sheep were found dead, the male suspect only was charged in connection with poaching one of them. More charges may be pending, based on evidence seized at the suspect's home and the ongoing investigation.

The arrest was made after the department received information through its Operation Game Thief hot line, which the public could use to report wildlife violations confidentially.

Operation Game Thief program manager Ken Dinquel said it was gratifying to have had the support of hunters and members of the public in helping report these types of cases.

"Although hunters pay for the largest share of wildlife conservation through license and tag fees, poaching adversely affects more than just hunters," said Dinquel. "Poachers steal from everyone because wildlife is managed in the public trust for all citizens to enjoy."

Multiple tips came in after the department issued a news release May 4 about the two dead bighorn sheep rams, offering a reward of up to $8,000 for information leading to the arrest of a suspect. The Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society also offered a reward of up to $1,000 per sheep for information leading to a conviction in either case, and the Arizona Bowhunters Assn. added an additional $1,000 reward for a conviction.

Game and Fish officers corroborated the information received with evidence obtained at the crime scene and obtained and executed a search warrant on the suspect’s home in Mesa, Ariz. The officers received a written confession from the suspect and seized evidence from the residence, including the firearm he admitted using and a desert bighorn sheep head that was buried in the backyard. 

Department officers cited the man for taking a bighorn sheep during a closed season, possessing/transporting an unlawfully taken bighorn sheep, taking a bighorn sheep without a permit tag and waste of game meat.

If convicted of the misdemeanor violations, the suspect could face penalties of up to $3,000 and a year in jail. He also could face civil sanctions from the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.

"Poachers aren’t hunters, and the public should not confuse the two," said Brian Wakeling, chief of game management for Game and Fish. "One of the truly unfortunate aspects of poaching is that it may result in the reduction of legal hunting opportunities. Hunting regulations are formulated to be biologically sustainable, yet someone who illegally takes wildlife does not consider any of the biological implications."

-- Kelly Burgess

Illustration of a bighorn sheep ram. Credit: Wayne Lewis / Colorado Division of Wildlife

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