VI. Types of Wildlife Offenders
Individuals are motivated to perpetrate wildlife crimes for a wide range of reasons. Several different typologies have been established to profile and describe the motivations that influence people to commit wildlife crimes. Overall, there are four broad categories that can be used to portray the various types of individuals who commit these crimes.
A. The “Back Door” Wildlife Criminal
The term back door offender refers to individuals who illegally hunt on their own property. They do not purchase a hunting license, and they often take animals out of season and with techniques that are not normally permitted. Even if they are aware that their behavior is illegal, they rationalize the act by claiming that it is acceptable for them to kill animals on their own property because they “own” the animals. Back door offenders may use their kills for consumption for themselves or their families, sell the meat to others for profit, or simply mount the animal on the wall as a trophy. This type of offender can be extremely difficult to detect since the person does not hunt beyond his or her own property. In fact, back door hunters are rarely discovered unless they are reported by a neighbor who witnessed the event or by another individual with whom the suspect discussed the illegal activities—or more likely to whom they have bragged about their efforts (Eliason, 2008).
B. The Opportunist Wildlife Criminal
The opportunist offender does not commit wildlife crimes on a regular basis, but will do so if the opportunity is available. For example, an opportunist may be legally hunting deer in a particular area when an elk approaches. The hunter may kill the elk simply because the opportunity presented itself. Unless the hunter had a permit to kill elk during that particular season, he or she has committed the crimes of hunting out of season and hunting without a license. Another common crime committed by opportunist offenders is taking more than the legal limit of game. Like the back door offender, opportunist offenders may commit wildlife crimes for a variety of reasons. They too are difficult to detect because their actions are so irregular—they typically do not have the motivation or intent to commit a wildlife crime until the opportunity is present.
C. The Habitual or Chronic Wildlife Offender
This category includes those individuals who engage in wildlife crime on a regular basis. They may participate in a broad array of wildlife crimes, or they might focus on one particular type (e.g., hunting endangered species or other animals for which there is no designated hunting season). While some animals taken by chronic wildlife offenders are used for personal consumption, these offenders are more likely than back door or opportunist criminals to be motivated by profit. Their bounties are often sold to others, domestically or internationally, for consumption or for use in making goods containing animal pelts. Offenders who illegally smuggle wildlife or animal parts into the United States are often habitual offenders (Eliason, 2008).
Experienced wildlife offenders usually become very skillful at their craft, as they simply get better through experience. Those who have not been apprehended get better over time through practice, and those who have been previously arrested tend to improve their abilities after learning from the mistakes that led to their apprehension. Many chronic offenders go as far as purchasing police scanners or other listening devices in order to monitor law enforcement activities and movement in the immediate area. Though habitual wildlife offenders are apprehended more often than back door or opportunistic offenders, their apprehensions typically come after they discuss their activities with someone who later reports the crimes. Those who do not discuss their actions with others are rarely detected (Eliason, 2008).
D. Trophy Poachers
Trophy poachers differ from the other three types of wildlife offenders in that their only motivation is to obtain animals to be used as trophies. Pictures of the “biggest and best” hunting and fishing trophies are often published in magazines, shown on Internet Web sites, and shared among sportspersons. These pictures often lead to competitions among hunters to establish who can obtain the best trophy of a particular animal. Since trophy animals are often extremely difficult to take legally during hunting seasons, trophy poachers frequently hunt them through illegal means (e.g., hunting out of season, spotlighting while hunting at night, trespassing, and using illegal weapons). Interviews with trophy poachers have revealed that most will keep the illegally obtained trophies for themselves, while a few will sell them to other hunters who will claim them as their own kills. Like habitual wildlife offenders, trophy poachers often commit a wide variety of wildlife crimes while hunting their trophy animal (Eliason, 2008).