•Turn in a Poacher hotline: 1-800-TIP-IDNR
It was an eclectic collection of posts on Craigslist one day last month.
Someone was selling a truck, someone else was hawking a yo-yo, and still another person was offering up a pair of tube socks.
And then there was the 21-year-old Warsaw man who wanted to sell a mounted badger.
Soon thereafter, an investigation by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources led to that man’s arrest on misdemeanor charges of unlawful possession of wildlife and unlawful sale of wildlife.
But it wasn’t his ad that initially caught the eye of DNR officers. Instead, someone using the Turn in a Poacher program alerted authorities to the badger.
Created in the late 1980s, Turn in a Poacher is a non-profit organization designed to protect the fish and wildlife resources of the state. It’s made up of sportsmen of all types and also offers rewards for tips – even anonymous ones – that lead to arrests.
The organization works closely with the DNR, which helped create the group, and even takes tips on pollution and dumping violations.
“The truth is, they need help, you know,” said TIP president Joe Cales. “We don’t have an officer in every county in the state. Some of them are covering a big area in the state and they can’t be everywhere all the time.”
“They need the public’s help.”
A poacher, as defined by TIP, is a thief who illegally steals wildlife that belongs to each Indiana citizen.
“Poachers rob licensed, ethical hunters and fishermen from recreational opportunities they bought through license fees,” the website says.
In Indiana, deer are the most commonly poached animal.
Poachers who hunt deer disregard certain times of the year or day when they can hunt, or even how many deer they are allowed to kill.
Sometimes poachers hunt deer at night against regulations or shoot at deer from a vehicle.
According to Cale, deer are sought after in this way for a variety of reasons. Some people want a buck’s antlers; some people just want to kill the animals, leaving the carcasses piling up in a field.
Two years ago, a Brownsburg man was accused of poaching a massive trophy buck in the dark from a Marion County road. As a consequence, he pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors and gave up his hunting and fishing licenses for a year.
But poachers can also go after fish and other wildlife, including coyotes, birds, turkeys and reptiles, according to DNR officials.
“It is a problem and it’s always been a problem, but is it an epidemic? No,” said Lt. William Browne of the DNR, who acts as the liaison between the state and TIP.
“It certainly would be a rampant problem if we didn’t have an enforcement group like TIP to keep it reduced.”
In the surrounding Allen County area, poaching can involve all species of animals, as varied as deer, turkey and water fowl, according to DNR officials.
And even the mounted badger found on Craigslist is off-limits, as state law bars the sale or possession of protected species such as badgers, bobcats or river otters without a proper permit.
“It’s not unusual for us to find those things,” said Officer Patrick Heidenreich of the District 2 Headquarters for the DNR, which is in Columbia City and oversees Allen and eight other counties.
Last year, TIP received 459 complaints about poaching through the organization’s hotline.
It also paid out roughly $4,500 in rewards for tips that led to arrests, according to the DNR.
How the hotline works is that when a complaint is received, a DNR officer is called out to investigate.
Records aren’t complete on all of last year’s calls, but most were likely deer, according to Browne.
Many of the tips come from honest hunters or sportsmen, according to both Browne and Cale. Some are not even seeking a reward, they said.
“You’ve got poachers and then you’ve got hunters,” Cale said.
The organization has not only been able to pay out rewards at $200 a pop but has been able to buy the occasional new K-9 for the DNR, according to Cale.
It’s also supplied the DNR with decoy deer, coyotes and other animals – which are used to trick poachers into shooting at them – as well as funded flights over hunting areas in attempts to catch poachers shooting at night.
And while poaching may not be an epidemic, according to DNR officials, it does happen and it takes the help of citizens to put it to an end.
“There’s a lot of it that does go on that is never resolved,” said Heidenreich. “That’s when we need the help of the general public to call the TIP line, so we can stop the illegal taking of our wildlife.”