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Is Social Media Causing an Increase in Poaching?

Brow Tines and Backstrap

Is Social Media Causing an Increase in Poaching?

Posted 2024-03-05  by  Mike Hanback

Recent cases highlight the good and bad of online posts with regard to illegal deer kills.

Image: CO_1

Game wardens are on the front lines fighting to protect wildlife from would-be poachers. Image by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife

A Virginia man was arrested and charged with illegally killing three deer this past fall, including a renowned buck called “Hollywood.” For years, the 29-point non-typical lived in and near Hollywood Cemetery in the city limits of Richmond, and was watched and enjoyed by many people.

“The Hollywood Buck was well-known for its large and distinctive antlers, making it easily identifiable,” the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources said in a press release.

This past October in western New York, a man created a fake Facebook profile and posed as a female wildlife photographer. He contacted other outdoor camera buffs around Tonawanda Township to find out where the big bucks lived. Then, disguised as hikers, the man and an accomplice brazenly walked into urban areas closed to hunting. They killed one big buck and wounded another. Arresting officers said the poachers hid their compact bows in backpacks and their arrows in walking sticks.

Those are two of the more egregious wildlife crimes I heard about this past season — both linked directly to social media.

Poacher’s Ego

The main reason people poach deer — especially big deer — is ego. There’s no better example than the illegal killing of the Hollywood Buck in Virginia. One day in December 2023, the suspect shared photos of himself with the giant on a local hunting Facebook page, claiming he harvested the deer with a muzzleloader in Prince Edward County, some 60 miles from the Richmond cemetery. Locals on Facebook — non-hunters and hunters — immediately recognized Hollywood and flooded law enforcement with calls and tips, leading to the investigation and subsequent arrest.

The sad case highlights the bad and the good of social media with regard to poaching. Did the instant gratification the guy got from posting with the giant on Facebook play a role in the crime? I have no doubt. But the good: Within minutes of seeing the post, dozens of well-minded people alerted authorities and sealed the egotistical poacher’s fate.

Image: CO_2

Some poachers are using social media to find bucks to shoot. Conservation officers are trying to combat it. Image by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife

Nobody Said Poachers are Smart

Had that Virginia outlaw never posted a picture of Hollywood, he might have gotten away with it, at least for a while. In addition to having big mouths and big egos, poachers are not very smart.

I’m sure the New York poachers who posed as photographers on Facebook and then masked as hikers thought they were quite clever, but they were actually ignorant. Local photographers and homeowners who enjoy watching wildlife know the land and the resident big deer well. Strangers posting for information on the whereabouts of big bucks undoubtedly raised red flags, not only with the public but with law-enforcement officials who monitor all the social media platforms for potential crimes.

An officer who worked the New Work crime confirmed that social media affects how poachers locate big deer today. Millions of good people, hunters and non-hunters, post a photo of a huge whitetail for friends to enjoy. Poachers lurking online figure out where the deer is and hatch their next nefarious plan.

Most troubling, the investigation of the New York crime uncovered a larger scheme — one that is likely occurring in all states. Reviewing the lead poacher’s social posts and text messages, wardens found evidence that the outlaws conspired with a large network of poachers to scour Facebook and Instagram hunting and photography pages, looking for big deer that are visible and easy to kill in parks and other areas where hunting is not permitted.

Final Word

A message to poachers: Get a life, go straight, and stop stealing our deer. If your ego won’t let you do that, post at your own peril. You think you’re smart, but hundreds of right-minded people will see your bogus post and flood law enforcement with tips. You will get busted, and that’s one of the good things about social media.


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