Smuggling powdered rhino horn or jaguar skins is as illegal as dope-dealing, and U.S. game wardens are nabbing outdoor-law violators with high-tech gadgets originally developed for the war against drugs.
All over the country, according to a recent article in the Hearst magazine Sports Afield, game-law enforcement has become increasingly innovative and sophisticated."We are using the gamut of new, highly technical devices," said Ken Goddard, who heads the National Fish and Wildlife Service's forensic crime lab. We've had to. Frankly, much of our equipment has been developed for drug enforcement."
He said dealing in illegal outdoor-related products was often as lucrative as selling drugs, and substantially less risky.
"Anyone smuggling cocaine through the Miami airport has a host of federal and state agencies to worry about, plus the deadlier threat from other `pirate' drug dealers," Goddard said. "If somebody comes through with powdered rhino horn, a $20,000 falcon or a jaguar hide - all as illegal as drugs - he pretty much has only us after him."
The new gear ranges from supersensitive listening devices to night-vision goggles, many of them developed during the Vietnam conflict.
"Infrared is especially useful for following a vehicle or a person at some distance because there is little probability that the wardens will be observed and therefore possibly attacked," Goddard said.
The California Department of Fish and Game is experimenting with heat sensors beamed from helicopters.
"Wild vehicle chases make for good TV," said Mike Grima, a department public information officer. "But in the real world they are expensive and dangerous. With the helicopter, we can hover, train in the sensor and track a vehicle even in dense forest cover, all by the heat it emits."
Connecticut and New Jersey have used slow-speed, fixed wing aircraft with great success against deer spotlighters. Wardens in Tennessee and Virginia have run "BambiScams," staking out mounted deer and waiting for them to be shot at by men in vehicles.