Wildlife Detectives

EarthFix Puts "Wildlife Detectives" On TV

May 28, 2015
Oregon State Police

Reporters scattered across the Northwest for the series of reports called "Wildlife Detectives."

The radio reports are right here (scroll down), but there's a television component as well. 

And let's face it, beetles consuming flesh off the bone is a very visual thing (that happens at the forensics lab in Ashland). 

Columbia River sturgeon are poached for eggs that become high-priced caviar. Puget Sound shellfish are plundered and shipped to Asian markets.

From the Cascades to the Rockies, bear gall bladders, elk antlers and eagle feathers are illegally harvested and sold for hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the black market.

The phrase “wildlife trafficking” usually evokes visions of elephant tusks, tiger pelts and mounted trophy heads of animals killed in faraway places, then smuggled into the United States, Asia or Europe.

Laura Daugherty balances a small tray on one gloved hand, like a waiter at black-tie restaurant.

Today’s main course is ring-necked pheasant – freshly skinned and raw.

Her patrons are a teeming pile of flesh-eating beetles.

“I’m sure they’re pretty hungry,” she says of the half-inch long insects. “And this is a nice fresh body for them to work on.”

It’s mud season in eastern Idaho. Winter is over. The reservoirs are filling, the ground is greening and the eagles are returning.

These birds are why researcher Michael Whitfield is in the woods.

“Every spring there’s that anticipation of seeing if such-and-such eagle is still around,” says Whitfield, the principal Idaho researcher at the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Project. “If they’re successfully nesting and if they survive.”

“There’s just something about it. It’s just an adrenaline rush. It’s like, ‘Oh, this could be the one. This could be a really, really nice one.’ I’ve never quite been able to explain that feeling,” Tanner said.

In a dark fish tank at a government-run lab, a bright sea snail scuttles out from its hiding place.

It’s a pinto abalone, and its numbers are dangerously low in Washington state after decades of overharvesting and poaching. This little-known animal is a delicacy, still served in U.S. restaurants; its shell is a source of mother-of-pearl.

There's no good reason for a live, 8-foot sturgeon to be tied by the tail and tethered to the shore of the Columbia River.

Wildlife cops have found this is how poachers steal these giant fish: They keep the sturgeon alive and hidden underwater while they look for black market buyers.

The cops say the high value of caviar is driving poachers to these inventive tactics. They've also found sturgeon carcasses floating in the river with their bellies slit open after poachers harvested their eggs.

The doe wandered across the wrong property. What’s left of her now is a blood stain in a bathtub.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Trooper Darin Bean finds the deer’s remnants in a backwoods central Oregon home. He had been searching for the man who illegally shot the deer last January and now, months later, missed his court date.

Bean creeps around a dark corner and calls out to see if anybody’s home. He pulls back a yellow-crusted shower curtain and shines a flashlight on the stain.