October 2007

AZGFD Offers Advice From Operation Game Thief

KINGMAN, Ariz. — Arizona Game and Fish Department law-enforcement officers want the public to report wildlife violations, but there are things a person should and shouldn’t do at a potential crime scene.

“The desire of the public to help us catch violators is great. However, there are instances when that desire can actually hinder law-enforcement efforts,” said Gene Elms, manager of the department’s Operation Game Thief (OGT) program, which maintains a 24-hour hotline for people to call in wildlife violations.

Elms explained that those encountering violations sometimes inform the violator they will be calling the OGT hotline.

“At that point, the violator vacates the scene before law-enforcement personnel can arrive,” Elms said. “A better approach is to avoid contact, leave the scene, and call the OGT hotline as soon as possible with details.”

Elms added that license plate numbers, names (if known), vehicle descriptions, and GPS (global positioning system) coordinates are all important pieces of information an officer can use.

Another common mistake is getting too close or examining a dead animal.

“Additional footprints, tire tracks, and general disturbance of the area makes an investigation difficult, if not impossible,” Elms explained. “If the death of a wild animal appears to be suspicious, people should assume a violation has occurred, call the OGT hotline, and provide the location. Do not disturb the area around the site.

“In the case of a natural cause of death, including predation, vehicle collision, or lightening, individuals can file a claim for the remains or parts. It is important to remember that only Game and Fish officers can make this determination about the cause of death, and they can only do that when the animal is in the field.”

Individuals should also remember that confronting suspected violators in the backcountry could be dangerous.

“Approaching a violator is not the best course of action,” Elms warned. “Allow trained law-enforcement officers to handle such situations. Individuals should focus on being good witnesses, but should never put themselves in harm’s way.”

Individuals witnessing or suspecting a violation can call OGT toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day at 1-800-352-0700. Callers can remain anonymous. The OGT program will pay rewards for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in the case.