Arizona Silent Witness Program Nets Poachers

By Mariana Dale
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 - 8:24am
Updated: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 - 8:55am

A mule deer
(Photo by George Andrejko/Arizona Game and Fish Department)
Mule deer are one of the most widespread of Arizona's big game animals and get their name from their large ears.

Suspected poachers killed a pregnant mule deer and her unborn fawn near Saguaro Lake last July (a time when hunting the deer is prohibited.)

This fall the Arizona Game and Fish department has sent out at least six press releases seeking information about illegal hunting.

The department reports its silent witness program, Operation Game Thief drew almost 1,100 reports of wildlife violations from poaching, to feeding wild animals and possessing restricted animals.

The department issued 76 citations, netting $74,500 in civil fines. The majority of citations, 55, were for the illegal take of big game.

Poaching can threaten Arizona’s animals species and it also can harm the Game and Fish Department’s bottom line.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department receives no money from the general fund and relies heavily on license revenue from legal hunters to operate.

“If people choose to utilize wildlife consumptively, but don’t pay into that, they’re stealing from all the other people that do,” said Scott Fischer, who manages Operation Game Thief for the state Game and Fish Department. He said the number of citations this year was average.

“By far most of the hunter community does a wonderful job of adhering to those laws and rules,” Fischer said. 

Arizona has the second-oldest silent witness program targeting wildlife violations, such as poaching.

“We need eyes and ears in the field to help us view these different violations taking place,” Fischer said.

Operators are available to answer calls at 1-800-352-0700, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. The reports are then forwarded to the departments 90 field wildlife managers who investigate the claims.

People with information are urged to contact the department through their silent witness program Operation Game Thief.

2017’s Top Five Reported Violations:


  • 356 illegal take of big game

  • 63 fishing violations

  • 59 feeding wildlife

  • 52 illegal take of raptors

  • 52 possession of restricted live wildlife

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