Social media helping investigators hunt down poachers

SEATTLE -- When you have something you're proud of and you want to share it with others, chances are, you post it on Facebook.

Criminals do that, too.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife discovered poachers are so prone to brag. They'll put photographic evidence online for anyone to see, and it's not a brand new phenomenon.

Grays Harbor County's evidence freezer holds what's left of a trip most hunters dream of taking: trophy animals from the wilds of Alaska. Wildlife Sgt. Chadwick said Washington residents Joe Querin and Carson Kemmer killed a grizzly, a moose, caribou and a dall sheep all without buying the required out of state licenses.

"Every hunter dreams of that -- going to Alaska, killing trophy animals up there. And it costs a lot of money," he said. "That trip would have cost the normal, legal citizen over $30,000 to make that trip."

Querin and Kemmer went for the price of a plane ticket out of Sea-Tac Airport.

Wildlife officers might not have known about the extensive poaching if the men weren't driven to brag.

"A poacher, he's not going to poach a trophy animal and not share it with somebody. He's going to look like the big tough hunter. And there's going to be a photograph of it somewhere," Chadwick said.

The photographs showed up on Kemmer's MySpace page, helping lead to convictions. In 2006, it was one of the first cases of its kind for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We first started using social media as an investigative tool when MySpace came online," said Deputy Chief Mike Cenci. "As social media use has increased by the public, so has our use."

Now searching a suspect's social media footprint is as standard as running a criminal background check. Wildlife Department investigators also use Facebook to drum up tips.

After finding the carcasses of seven dead deer near Spokane, officers posted details of the thrill kill on Facebook.

It was a particularly brutal poaching. Someone blinded deer with a spotlight, shot them, and left the bodies to rot.

"We had no suspects. We posted a $2,500 reward on our Facebook account, and we got a tip that broke the case. It made all the difference in the world," Cenci said.

When someone recently shot four eagles, Cenci posted photos and information on Facebook.

"In many cases, we're dealing with hard-core poachers who are laying awake at night. And they're thinking about how to steal your natural resources, and, in many cases, profit from it. Or get some kind of sick and twisted thrill," he said.

It's the type of crime that angers legitimate hunters and wildlife lovers. Getting them to band with investigators is as simple as a status update.

The case involving the eagles is still unsolved, but according to the department's Facebook page. the reward is up to $20,000.