Sunday, April 8, 2012
Anyone who stopped by Fulton High School April 6 saw an array of antlers, pelts, skins and trophies so vast they would make any avid hunter instantly green with envy.
Unfortunately for any of those hunters who abide by the law, these were all trophies they never had a sporting chance to bag — they were poached and recovered by Missouri Department of Conservation agents, who then put them on display in their traveling Operation Game Thief trailer.
The trailer has been used throughout Missouri at exhibitions and fairs to bring attention to the problems of illegal hunting and trapping, but this outing Friday marked its first appearance in Callaway County.
Conservation agent Todd Houf figured that more than 100 visitors stopped by, while fellow agent Bob Lyons said he hoped it would make people more aware of some of the things the Conservation department frequently deals with.
“It's kind of a nice little display to show to people what happens out there,” said Lyons. “Some people just aren't used to it. They don't see it, they don't know that it goes on, and this is just another way to bring it to them.”
The trailer — unassuming in appearance when closed and in transport, even with the MDC logo and hotline number painted on its side — reveals dozens of illegal trophies, traps and informative plaques when it's opened and displayed to the public. One side was dedicated to traps, tools and techniques poachers would use to gain an unfair advantage over their prey, including an old raccoon trap where bait would be hidden in a log. Should a raccoon reach in for it, the creature would find bent nails curved inward waiting to impale and ensnare its paw when attempting to leave the trap.
“Our trapping now is humane,” said Lyons. “It doesn't hurt the animal or anything like that when they get caught in a trap. That (trap) is obviously not the case. There's just tons of things there that some people might not realize goes on so we're bringing it to their attention and letting people know what we do.”
The other side of the trailer was completely decked with whitetail deer antlers. It seemed like a lot, but the sign in the middle of them advised readers that they were only a fraction of the 189 racks siezed from a single father and son team of poachers.
“All those animals that people have taken is a missed opportunity for someone who is doing things legally,” said Lyons. “That's a memory that they won’t have, that somebody basically took from them. This is a way to get the word out there and hopefully people will realize what's going on and will make phone calls to us.”
Operation Game Thief is an anti-poaching program that encourages Missouri citizens to contact MCD via a 24-hour toll-free hotline if they witness any illegal activity. Callers may remain anonymous, and if their tip leads to an arrest, they may be considered for a $50-$1,000 reward.