Taxidermy robots made from roadkill help nab poachers

Deer decoy
Screen capture The Humane Society

Remote-controlled bucks and bears are assisting government agencies crack down on illegal hunting.

We read a lot about the intensive anti-poaching efforts aimed at exotic and endangered species in other countries, but it turns out that anti-poaching enforcers are getting pretty creative close to home as well.

Take California Fish and Game warden A.J. Bolton, for example, who employs animal automatons in Eureka, California as decoys in poaching sting operations. The robotic bucks and friends are crafted from roadkill by taxidermist Brian Wolslegel. They are set in position and prompted by remote control to do their animal things; ears twitch, eyes blink, tails swish. And when a sneaky illegal hunter takes the bait and fires a shot, out from hiding come Bolton and his colleagues to make the bust.

The California anti-poaching team sets up decoys in areas where there have been reports of suspicious activity, writes Alisa Opar for NRDC. The trick to nabbing poachers, Bolton says, is a convincing decoy. “If we used a white-tailed deer, people in Eureka would say, ‘That doesn’t look right,’” observes Bolton. The decoy is realistic partly because it is made from the skin and antlers of an animal killed on the highway, notes Opar.

At around $2,000 a pop for an animated deer, not all anti-poaching enforcers can afford the motorized taxidermy wizardy … which is where the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust and other groups step in. The Humane Society’s Robotic Decoy Program – yes, that’s a thing, and a pretty glorious thing at that – has so far facilitated the donation of 29 decoys to 21 agencies in 20 states, a federally recognized Treaty Tribe and one Canadian province.

The wildlife “body doubles” include black and grizzly bears, white-tailed deer, antelope, and coyotes, says Jim Reed, who is in charge of the program.

“I think the average person would be shocked to learn how much poaching is going on [in the U.S.]” says Elise Traub of the Humane Society. But with the help of remote-controlled deer luring poachers into providing evidence of their crimes, many illegal hunters have been arrested. Once shot, a decoy can be pretty easily repaired and set up again and again to entice more poachers with a coy swivel of the head, courtesy of a warden in a hidden car nearby.

Saving the country’s wildlife, one tricky taxidermied roadkill robot at a time.

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