The poor economy may be claiming a new class of victims: Arizona’s wildlife. The Arizona Republic says state game and fish have seen a dramatic spike in complaints about wildlife violations and poaching in the past year, and they think an unfavorable economy may have something to do with it. Some people have resorted to the illegal taking of edible game for food, while others are killing for profit. A third group actually may be reporting violators in hopes of getting financial rewards, which could help explain the notable increase in reports of violations.
There were 768 reports of game and fish violations in 2009, up 70 percent from 2008 and more than double the year before that. In 2009, the state also paid a record amount in rewards to people who tipped investigators to violations. State law covers a wide swath of violations, from exceeding fishing limits to shooting deer out of season. Even oddities like people shooting cattle are included. The biggest chunk, more than 400, of last year’s violations were complaints of illegal big-game killings of deer, elk, black bears, antelope, even a bighorn sheep. Ken Dinquel, head of the state program that handles the calls, said hard times can increase “subsistence poaching” by people looking for cheap food. The rewards for turning in possible violators may look more attractive as well, explaining the record reward payouts last year. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that there is an illicit and lucrative market for things like animal horns, trophy heads, even bear gallbladders, which are sometimes sold as aphrodisiacs.