Animal Conservation

US hunter fined after trophy photo proves he shot sheep in Canada | Canada

When an Alaskan hunter ventured into the rugged mountains and dropped his target with a single shotgun blast, it seemed like the perfect crime.

The only witness lay dead on the rocky landscape.

But Donald Lee’s trickery was uncovered after forensic work by a savvy online sleuth and conservation officers revealed Lee had killed a bighorn sheep in Canada – not the US, as he had previously stated.

A Yukon court fined Lee CA$8,500 (US$6,700) and banned him from hunting in Canada for five years after he pleaded guilty to violating federal wildlife laws.

“I regret the decisions I made that day,” Lee said in court, CBC reported. “I can’t bring the animal back to the mountain.”

In 2017, Lee was hunting in the Nation River region of Alaska, near the Yukon border. He spotted a Fannin sheep grazing on the mountainside, less than 200 meters away.

What he didn’t know, he later told the court, was that the animal was across the border in Canada – where he didn’t have a hunting license. It was only after bagging the sheep that the penny fell, he alleged.

“I guess I could have contacted someone to get in touch with the Canadian authorities one way or another. Instead, I made bad decisions,” Lee wrote in a statement read to the court.

These decisions included filing paperwork to say the murder took place in Alaska. He ate the meat from his kill and took the carcass to a taxidermist, mounting the curly-horned ungulate to his wall.

But it was his choice to post trophy photos of the kill that caused his downfall.

Images posted on a sheep hunting forum included both date and geotagging. A sharp-eyed user then tipped Yukon conservation officers, who then flew by helicopter to the remote area where Lee allegedly slaughtered the sheep.

The Yukon team painstakingly recreated the scene, using landmarks including distinct rocks and scruffy trees, to prove that Lee had committed a crime.

Lee now has a year to pay the fine and has already been ordered to return the stuffed head.

“I will also say that the sentence imposed today is one that should send a strong message to the public about the price,” Noel Sinclair, the crown attorney, told reporters after Lee’s sentencing. “Ethical hunters will pay if they are negligent or willfully ignore the regulatory requirements of hunting in the Yukon.