Undercover Robo-Animals Are Being Used to Catch Poachers in the US

March 1, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Robotic deer decoy
Photo credit: Screen capture from video posted by The Humane Society of the United States

Almost impossible to tell from the real thing!

Poaching is a big problem around the world, and the United States is no exception.  Conservationists estimate that for every animal killed legally in the hunting season, one animal is lost to poaching.  Unfortunately, few of the heartless criminals are caught in the act because the enforcement of anti-poaching laws is quite difficult.

Fortunately, wildlife officials have a new trick up their sleeves — undercover animal robots!  These animals are so realistic that poachers across the United States are falling for them.

In fact, two men from Maryland recently gained Internet fame when they were temporarily banned from hunting for using crossbows to shoot a deer on state land — a big no-no.  Little did they know, the men had shot a state-owned robotic deer.

The men had fallen for one of a number of remote-controlled animal decoys being used by American wildlife law enforcement to stop poachers.  And it is not only deer — elk, bear, turkey, fox and wolves are being used to catch people who hunt where they are not supposed to, out of season or otherwise illegally.

SEE ALSO: Monk Monastery in Thailand Accused of Supplying Tigers for Illegal Trade

This is how they work: Officers pose the decoys in environments where shooting them is illegal, and then they find a place to hide out of sight from the poachers.  With the use of a remote, the robots can easily move.  Although they can’t walk or run, they can turn their head, tail or lift a leg — which is enough to lure in poachers.

“I consider it like a bait car that police departments use to apprehend people who are stealing vehicles,” explained Arizona Game and Fish Department officer Ken Dinquel to National Geographic.

There is a large demand for these decoys, said Jim Reed of the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust to The Washington Post. The trust donates them to underfunded anti-poaching agencies who would not normally be able to afford the expensive robots. A deer costs about $2,000 and a black bear costs up to $5,000.  The robots look so realistic because at one point they were alive — the decoys are made from hides acquired legally from hunters and game wardens.

So far, officers have said that they have made over US$30,000 in fines off each fake animal, and it turns out, the robots are pretty hard to kill.  Most are made with a styrofoam core, so if they are shot with a high-powered rifle it passes through with minimal damage, and if the bullet hits the motor, it is easily replaceable.

Under state law, firing at a wildlife enforcement decoy is considered the same as firing at a live animal — all the same penalties apply.  “The people that shoot at decoys are wildlife thieves,” said Lieutenant Steve Lane to National Geographic.  “They're not hunters.”

You can watch this short video by The Humane Society of the United States talking about the robot decoys and why there is such a big need for them to stop poachers.


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