ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque police paved the way for the Crime Stoppers concept to take off back in 1976 across the country, and soon, New Mexico led the way in catching lawbreakers of a different kind.
Operation Game Thief, in short, is the “Crime Stoppers for wildlife.” Those who hunt and fish illegally can be turned in through the program started by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in 1977.
Online, a number of solved cases are highlighted, ranging from an oryx shot and killed on White Sands Missile Range to more than 1600 rainbow trout, more than 160 times the legal possession limit, that were part of an operation in Clovis.
“Poaching, statewide, we feel is a pretty serious problem or else we wouldn’t be here today,” said Michael Perry, a major in charge of Southern Field Operations with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
“Last year there were approximately $10,000 in fines that were levied from Operation Game Thief,” Perry said.
Online, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has almost two dozen cases that still need to be solved, ranging from a cow elk killed for no reason and left to rot to swans senselessly shot.
“The day of poaching for human consumption, those days are gone. We’re not saying it doesn’t happen, but that’s not the majority of calls we witness,” Perry explained.
Often, some animals will become “trophy animals” and their heads have value on the black market, but Perry said it’s most often the law-abiding sportsmen who do the right thing and turn in those who refuse to obey the rules.
“One of the worst crimes that we see on a day to day basis, or the motoring public is going to notice, is going to be something around road hunting or traveling down the road and shooting that protected wildlife from a vehicle or from a state highway,” he said.
“When people are hunting illegally, they’re stealing wildlife. They’ll not stealing from those who hunt and fish, they’re stealing it from everybody within the state,” Perry said. “So everybody loses,” he added.
Last year, 234 tips came into Operation Game Thief. The rewards start at $250 for cases involving turkey, bear, cougar, javelina, ibex, barbary sheep, endangered species, small game, fish, raptors and furbearers. Antelope tips are $350. The reward increases to $500 for deer and oryx. Tips involving prosecutions related to elk and bighorn sheep are up to $750.