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CA: Poacher with over 300 birds convicted

Poacher with over 300 birds convicted
Hunter caught with ducks, geese, even a swan and a crane
(11-17-2008) 22:17 PST

Gilroy -- California game wardens say they've bagged the biggest bird poacher they've seen in modern times - and they warn that with hard economic times pressing down everywhere, there will be more to come.

Peter Ignatius Ciraulo of Gilroy was convicted Nov. 14 in Santa Clara County Superior Court of waterfowl poaching, but this wasn't a matter of a few birds shot on the sly in nearby fields, said state Game Warden Patrick Foy.

"This was more than 300 birds, of just about every kind you can think of," said Foy, spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game. "It was crazy. Disgusting. Back in the early 1900s we had people who killed birds illegally and brought them back to town, but even the old timers in our force haven't seen anything of this magnitude."

Ciraulo, 42, pleaded no contest to possessing more than the allowable number of waterfowl, failure to show game upon demand to a warden and failure to declare possession of a swan, which is a protected bird in California.

Wardens had gotten suspicious of the Gilroy man during the waterfowl hunting season last winter, and when they finally went to his house they found it jammed with dead birds, Foy said. They found 335 waterfowl of almost every species that migrates into California, and most were stowed intact, feathers and all, in freezers.

Among the birds were 253 ducks and 58 geese - exceeding the legal possession limits of 14 ducks and eight geese - a protected species, sandhill crane, and seven live but wounded snow geese on hand, Foy said. He also had several goose breasts hidden in his jacket.

"Mr. Ciraulo had hunted throughout the Central Valley," Foy said. "He said he was going to eat some of them, but when we asked him why he had so many, he never really never offered up a very valid explanation."

Ciraulo, who was sentenced to two years probation, 100 hours of community service and fined $7,105, declined to discuss the case when reached at his home Monday.

"There's really nothing to say," he said, and then joked that he was headed out on a whale hunt.

Foy said that wardens throughout the state report they are seeing an alarming rise in poachings of many kinds of animals, and they blame it on harder economic times.

"We don't have statistics yet to show all this, but we will absolutely see more poachers in our numbers," Foy said.

Compounding the problem is a shortage of game wardens, he added.

The state already has a skimpy number of wardens compared to other states, according to the state Fish and Game Wardens Association - about 200 for the entire state, contrasted with 700 in Florida and 500 in Texas. And about a quarter of the workforce is expected to retire in the next couple of years.

"We have fewer wardens per capita in California than we had in 1950, and that will equate to more poachers, for sure," said Foy.

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