HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is targeting poachers. The agency is boosting patrols to stop poachers from killing and skinning animals.
Sworn to protect more than 80,000 acres of property in Hillsborough County, Deputy Art Peralta is one of the few with keys to the Golden Aster Scrub Preserve.
But this week Peralta and his partner made an upsetting discovery on the 1,000-acre preserve. They found ATV tracks within the locked down preserve.
They followed the tracks and found a downed fence. Peralta says poachers often park by the parallel I-75 and cut open the fence allowing the ATVs to sneak in. The criminals are disturbing land that's home to 16 protected species of plants and animals.
But the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has ATVs too. Their two deputies team up with the FWC, park rangers and conservation agents to patrol the thick brush for poachers.
Peralta says it's a growing problem. Just a couple of decades ago the land that is now the preserve, used to be open to hunters. But despite the fencing and protected status, poachers are refusing to follow the law.
Peralta recalls some of the animal carcasses left behind in previous years.
"We found alligators that have been illegally hunted, decapitated or their tails cut off," he said.
Not only gators, but also deer, turtles, jays and even us.
"We got somebody here in the preserve illegally with a gun, there’s a chance, a potential that something worse could happen. Somebody could get injured and we definitely don’t want that happen," said Peralta of the many hikers that visit the preserve.
That’s why HCSO is now focusing its patrols on this preserve and they’ve got impressive tools to bust poachers, including air support, infrared cameras and most importantly, you.
"I know you are coming out to our preserve to kind of get away from the city or whatever stress, but be vigilant," advised Peralta.
You can do your part to help stop poaching. Be on the lookout for downed fences, ATV tracks or mutilated animals. If you see any of this call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.