Public's assistance leads to arrest in poaching case

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

The arrest was made after the department received information from the public through its Operation Game Thief hotline, which is a silent witness line the public can utilize to report wildlife violations.

Game and Fish officers corroborated the information with evidence obtained at the crime scene and obtained and executed a search warrant on the suspect's residence in Mesa. The officers received a written confession from the suspect and seized evidence from the residence, including the firearm he admitted was involved in the alleged illegal shooting and a desert bighorn sheep head which was buried in the backyard.

Department officers cited the individual for taking a bighorn sheep during closed season, possessing/transporting an unlawfully taken bighorn sheep, taking a bighorn sheep without a permit-tag, and waste of game meat. More charges may be pending based on evidence seized at the residence, and the investigation is ongoing.

The department began investigating in late April after an employee with the Dolly Steamboat called in a report of a dead bighorn sheep by the shore of the lake. Further investigation found one dead bighorn ram with its head removed and indications of being illegally shot, and a second dead bighorn ram about 100 yards away with its head intact.

Because of the decomposed condition of the second carcass, it was difficult to ascertain whether unlawful take was involved with this animal. 

Multiple tips came in after the department issued a May 4 news release offering a reward of up to $8,000 for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in the cases.

If convicted of the misdemeanor violations, the individual could face penalties of up to $3,000 and a year in jail. He could also 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."