It’s a well-documented fact that it doesn’t require rocket-scientist credentials to break wildlife laws and take game animals outside designated seasons. But you’d think even lowlife poachers would know better than to post the results of their dirty deeds on the popular social networking site, Facebook.
Well, they apparently don’t, and that’s why a growing number of state game agencies are successfully using the Internet to track down game and fish bandits and bring them to justice.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced recently that its officers cited Inverness residents William Andrew Buchanan, 21, and Tara Anne Carver, 27, when an investigation found they had illegally taken a white-tailed deer and posted photos of them skinning the animal on Facebook.
When questioned by investigating FWC authorities, Buchanan confirmed he was in the photographs helping skin the deer, though he wouldn’t admit to shooting the animal or being present when the deer was killed, said Lead Investigator Jim Smith.
“Carver said she published the photographs on her Facebook page and that the deer was killed some time in May,” Smith said. She blamed Buchanan for killing the deer, but confirmed she had skinned it and stored some of the meat in her uncle’s freezer.
“Fortunately for investigators, pictures can say a thousand words,” said Smith.
Realizing the medium’s potential for tracking illegal hunting and fishing activities, the Florida agency created a specialized Internet Crimes Unit (ICU) in 2009 to monitor and collect evidence. Why? Because agency investigators have learned from experience that poachers aren’t always the sharpest tools in the shed.
“FWC investigators use the Internet to aggressively target criminals who are abusing Florida’s natural resources,” said Lt. George Wilson, who oversees Florida’s ICU. “People go on Facebook bragging about their exploits. They think they’re protected.”
In its first year of operation, Florida’s ICU initiated 168 investigations, resulting in 177 arrests and 92 warnings.
Now in its second year, the unit reviews about 10 complaints a week in South Florida about people who post images of their illegal hunting and fishing exploits or other wildlife law infractions.