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Undercover agents and stings are usually associated with drugs or weapons, not taxidermy. But, the Missouri Department of Conservation recently closed shop on a two-year undercover operation to catch hunters who were killing illegally in southern Missouri. The investigation resulted in the documentation of 425 violations across seven counties. KSMU’s Adam Murphy reports.
After receiving several complaints of illegal hunting activities, the Missouri Department of Conservation decided to set up an undercover taxidermy shop in Shannon County to catch the poachers. Gary Cravens is the Protection Regional Supervisor with the conservation department. He says they set up the shop, called Craig’s Taxidermy, in 2008.“So we set up the sting operation involving a taxidermist setting a business up. We ran that for about two years. The investigator became friends with several of these folks and essentially they brought the illegal wildlife to us,” said Cravens.The undercover shop was successful in catching the illegal hunters. Cravens says 62 percent of the wildlife brought in for mounting was taken illegally in some manner. “We discovered several of them were shot from the road, shot from a motor vehicle, they were shot in someone else’s field and they went out trespassing to pick them up. A lot of them were out of season, some of them were shot with a gun and checked as archery kill, so there was a whole host of violations involved in this,” he said.The hunters often gave themselves up by bragging about how they had killed the animals illegally—without permits, during the wrong times in the year, or in the wrong places. 425 violations were committed by 68 individuals, meaning most of them had several offenses. Tom Bauer is a local taxidermist in Springfield. He says it’s difficult to know for certain if an animal was killed illegally. He says he does try to keep an eye out for poachers, though, and will sometimes turn animals away. “I’ve had people say ‘oh, what would you do if I brought a mountain lion in’, and they come in from Missouri. I say ‘well you better not bring it in here because it’s illegal’, and different things like that. If something’s been poached I definitely don’t let it come in the shop,” said Bauer. Cravens says the findings of the investigation will be given to the local prosecutors to decide what charges are going to be filed against the violators. He says the consequence could be a fine up to $1,000 for each incident. Cravens says the department may set up more of these undercover shops in the future.For KSMU News, I’m Adam Murphy.