(Reuters) - Three men convicted of state hunting violations in Nevada now face trial on federal charges stemming from a poaching ring that saw untold numbers of deer, antelope, birds and other wildlife killed illegally across Nevada, game officials said on Monday.
Authorities uncovered the poaching ring after one of the defendants posted a photograph on Facebook of two deer he shot and killed out of season last June, said Cameron Waithman, who led the Nevada Wildlife Department investigation of the case.
The ensuing probe found that Adrian Acevedo-Hernandez, 36, Jose Luis Montufar-Canales, 31, and J. Nemias Reyes Marin, 31, had been illegally killing and butchering animals across the state and bragging about the kills online since early 2013, Waithman said.
The men, described by Waithman as “serial wildlife killers,” were convicted in a state court of misdemeanor hunting violations earlier this year. In July they were indicted by a federal grand jury in Las Vegas on felony firearms offenses and criminal charges under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The three men, who resided in Las Vegas but are suspected of having entered the United States illegally, remain in federal custody awaiting trial, Waithman said.
Search warrants executed at a residence occupied by one of the men uncovered large caches of deer meat, deer parts, butchering tools, weapons and ammunition. The evidence there led investigators to broaden their probe to unsolved poaching cases that stretched from Nevada’s northern border with Idaho to its southeastern intersection with Arizona, he said.
Waithman said the men were engaged in an extreme version of what conservation officers call “thrill kills,” indiscriminate killing of wildlife for excitement rather than for food.
“These are people who, for whatever reason, don’t want to shoot at paper targets anymore and go out and kill stuff for fun,” he said.
Nevada game wardens will never be able to fully tally all the wildlife illegally killed by the poaching ring, said Edwin Lyngar, a spokesman for the state wildlife agency.
“They just sort of shot at everything that moved,” he said.
Their quarry included upland game birds, protected migratory songbirds and deer and antelope whose carcasses were left to rot, Lyngar said.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh