Someone decapitated a gaggle of geese in Idaho, and wildlife officials seek answers

a uniformed wildlife official inspects a dead goose
Senior Conservation Officer Kolby White investigates the scene where multiple adult Canada geese with goslings were killed by a vehicle in Idaho. (Image credit: Kolby White/Idaho Fish and Game)

A grisly and unusual wildlife crime took place in Idaho over July 4th weekend: Someone mowed down a gaggle of Canada geese — including goslings — with a vehicle, and before fleeing the scene, the perpetrator decapitated many of the birds and apparently removed their heads from the site.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) received a call about the geese via their Citizens Against Poaching Hotline, which members of the public can use to anonymously report wildlife violations in the state. The incident occured on Bloomington Bottoms Road, near the city of Bloomington in Bear Lake County, according to an IDFG statement released July 8. "Multiple" adult geese and goslings had been run over in three locations along the road, all within a 200-yard (183 meter) stretch.

"This is such an unusual case for this agency," Jennifer Jackson, the regional communications manager for IDFG, told Live Science in an email. Typically, Fish and Game officers issue tickets for violations akin to fishing without a license or hunting an animal outside of the appropriate season, so this "horrible display of truly unusual human behavior" falls well outside the norm, she said. 

"It’s hard to fathom why someone could do such an awful thing," Jackson said. "Our public has been expressing their disdain and disgust with this incident on social media and even in calls to our office." 

Related: Canada geese have a bizarre, death-defying strategy for surviving hailstorms (Video) 

Canada geese (Branta canadensis) live in Idaho year-round. It is legal to hunt Canada geese in Idaho, "but there are rules and regulations that must be followed regarding seasons, hunt areas, required hunting licenses and permits, allowed methods of take, limits, requirements for meat harvest, etc," Jackson said. For example, hunters who harvest migratory birds, like geese, are required to register with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Harvest Information Program, which collects data on the number of active hunters and number of birds harvested each season, the IDFG website states.   

However, "no connections between this crime and hunting should be made," Jackson told Live Science. "This was the act of a wildlife violator, not that of an ethical hunter." 

Under the Title 36 Code of Idaho state law, the perpetrator — or perpetrators — committed several misdemeanors, Jackson said. Specifically, they killed geese using a vehicle, which constitutes "illegal take;" killed the geese outside of the appropriate season; and left waste behind. Penalties for Title 36 misdemeanors vary, but can include fines between $25 and $1,000 and jail time up to six months. In addition, a person's fishing, hunting or trapping privileges may be revoked for up to three years, Jackson said.

"Note that a magistrate could impose a penalty for each bird killed," she added.

Anyone with information that might be helpful to the IDFG's ongoing investigation is encouraged to contact Senior Conservation Officer Kolby White at 208-204-3921 or call Idaho's Citizens Against Poaching Hotline at 1-800-632-5999. "Callers can remain anonymous and rewards are available to those with information that leads to an arrest," the IDFG statement notes.

Originally published on Live Science.

Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.