Operation Game Thief History
More than four decades of catching poachers
The Arizona Game and Fish Department long ago recognized the need for a program that provided the public with a way to report wildlife violations to assist wildlife managers in the ongoing battle against the poaching of Arizona’s fish and wildlife resources.
In 1974, the “Help Our Wildlife” (HOW) program was developed. The HOW program was limited due to a lack of dedicated funding, making the promotion of the program difficult and the financing of a reward program virtually impossible. Before cell phones calls often were made to the HOW program several days after the violation took place. While the information was valuable, the untimely reporting made catching the violator(s) in the field with illegally-taken wildlife unlikely.
In 1977, Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) 17-246 (re-numbered in 1978 to the current 17-314), established the civil liability process where the state could bring civil action against any person unlawfully taking, wounding or killing, or unlawfully in possession of wildlife and seek to recover the sum of damages for the loss of the wildlife to the state. Minimum sums of damage were assessed for each species of wildlife. For example, the minimum sum of damages to recover the poaching loss of an endangered species in 1977 was $750 whereas today’s civil liability minimum is $8,000.
Additional legislation was enacted in 1978 when, A.R.S. 17-315, created the Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund (WTPF). The WTPF consists of monies received from damage assessments pursuant to A.R.S 17-314, donations made to the fund, monies appropriated by the legislature, and monies received from fines, forfeitures and penalties for violation of game and fish laws. The WTPF can only be expended for the financing of reward payments, a statewide telephone reporting system under the name “Operation Game Thief”. The promotion of the public recognition and awareness of the wildlife theft prevention program, and investigations of the unlawful commercial use of wildlife.
The program in 1979, known today as the Operation Game Thief (OGT) Program was established making it the second-oldest in the nation behind New Mexico, which started in 1978. Because of the establishment of the WTPF, the ‘new’ OGT program had dedicated funding that allowed for the program to expand and become one of the nation’s leading Operation Game Thief programs.
The OGT Hotline (1-800-352-0700) has remained the same since 1979, and wildlife violations now can be reported 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In 1979, the OGT hotline only operated from 6 AM until 10 PM.