Social media is proving to be a useful tool to catch poachers. Why? Because, fundamentally, poachers are not the brightest people in the world.
“Most of the people I work within the wildlife law enforcement field love social media because some people can’t resist bragging,” explained Keith Wintersteen, a naturalist that works for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks (GFP) to BlackHillsFox.com.
Wintersteen is stationed at Outdoor Campus-West, a state-run park and facility that educates the public on all things outdoors, including responsible hunting and fishing.
“They would think, they’re not going to catch me because I’m so sneaky,” said Wintersteen. “Believe whatever you want, but sooner or later, someone’s gonna see something and they are gonna say something and you will get a knock on your door and somebody will say about this post where you have four deer laying here and you don’t even have a license according to our records.”
Wildlife Conservation Officer Chris Dekker agreed, noting that social media has also helped the department nab vandals and litterers.
“We get a wide range of tips that come in,” said Dekker. “Anything from littering complaints will come in on our TIPs hotline, vandalism complaints at our game production areas or other public areas, as well as poaching complaints.”
This digital crime-fighting approach isn’t limited to South Dakota. Other states have caught on. In one high-profile case, a trio of Montana men was hit with a three-year worldwide hunting ban after they illegally harvested a mountain lion in Yellowstone National Park in 2018.
Austin Peterson, 20, Trey Juhnke, 20, and Corbin Simmons, 19, posted pics to Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook following the kill (see photo above). Authorities took notice thanks to tips from responsible hunters.
“You know, we ended up getting a lot of this information from a guy in Bozeman off of Facebook because you guys put a bunch of stuff on social media,” Yellowstone special agent Jake Olson told Simmons during an interview, according to court documents obtained by Fox News.
All three had admitted to shooting the lion within the park, a violation of the Lacey Act, which among other things outlaws taking, selling or purchasing wildlife from protected areas. In addition to the three-year ban on hunting, the men were ordered to pay a $1,666 fine.
Authorities everywhere say the same thing. If you see something incriminating on social media, say something. The more poachers we can bring to justice, the better.