It seemed like the perfect crime when an Alaskan hunter trekked out into the steep mountains and dropped his prey with a single rifle shot.
On the rocky landscape, the solitary witness lay dead.
However, Donald Lee’s deceit was exposed after forensic work by a skilled online sleuth and conservation officials proved that Lee killed a bighorn sheep in Canada, not the United States, as he had stated previously.
After pleading guilty to a violation of federal wildlife conservation regulations, a Yukon court fined Lee C$8,500 (US$6,700) and restricted him from hunting in Canada for five years.
“I am regretful for the decisions I made that day,” Lee said in court, CBC reported. “I can’t return the animal to the mountain.”
In 2017, Lee was hunting the Nation River area of Alaska, close to the Yukon border. He spotted a Fannin sheep grazing on the mountainside, less than 200 metres away.
What he didn’t realise, he later told the court, was that the animal was across the border in Canada – where he didn’t have a permit to hunt. It was only after he had bagged the sheep that the penny dropped, he alleged.
“I suppose I could have contacted someone to get in touch with the Canadian authorities somehow. Instead I made some poor decisions,” Lee wrote in a statement read to the court.
Those decisions included filling out paperwork to say the kill was in Alaska. He ate the meat from his kill and brought the carcass to a taxidermist, mounting the curly-horned ungulate on his wall.
But it was his choice to post trophy photos of the kill that was his undoing.
Images posted to a sheep hunting forum included both date and geolocation. A sharp-eyed user then sent a tip to Yukon conservation officers, who then travelled by helicopter to the remote area where Lee was believed to have shot the sheep.
The Yukon team painstakingly recreated the scene, using landmarks including distinct rocks and scraggly trees to prove Lee had committed a crime.
Lee now has one year to pay the fine and was previously ordered to turn over the stuffed head.
“I will also say that the sentence imposed today is one which should send a strong message to the public about the price,” said Noel Sinclair, the crown attorney, told reporters after Lee was sentenced. “Unethical hunters will pay when they are careless or deliberately turning a blind eye to the regulatory requirements for hunting in the Yukon.”
This article by Leyland Cecco was first published by The Guardian on 4 March 2022. Lead Image: Boghorn Sheep Copyright: © Donald M. Jones.
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