Breaking! Three Suspects Arrested In Brazen Elk Poaching Case In Oklahoma


Three people were arrested yesterday in connection with a shocking elk poaching case that occurred late last year in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation game wardens, with the assistance of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, apprehended 37-year-old Rocky Ray Watts of Tahlequah in the alleged poaching of a bull elk on the Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve.

“On Monday, November 27, 2017, Nature Conservancy personnel discovered a cut lock on a gated road leading deep into the interior of the 17,000-acre private preserve,” noted a post on the Game Wardens Facebook page. “During this incident, they located a poached elk carcass. The head, hide, and meat had been removed from what appeared to be a mature bull elk.”

Watts accomplices, 38-year-old Johnny Mack Barnett, who was identified on Facebook and now faces charges of aiding and abetting a violation of game or fish law, and 45-year-old Debbie Vaughn, were also arrested.

A convicted poacher in Cherokee County, Watts allegedly shot the elk. Barnett helped cover up the incident and stage the fake kill site on private property while Vaughn was aware of the poaching.

“In over 30 years of wildlife law enforcement, I have never seen anyone take such bold and premeditated steps to try to get away with a wildlife crime,” Game Warden Brady May told the Tahlequah Daily Press. “This case involved a convicted poacher who brazenly went over a mile behind locked gates into a posted wildlife preserve to kill a trophy 6-by-7 bull elk.”

Wardens were able to collect meat from the carcass for DNA testing which was then compared to meat from the elk that Watts claimed he harvested legally. The two samples were a match.

May further explained that while Northeast Oklahoma has an elk season allowing the harvest of 20 elk per year, it is only permitted on private land and they cannot be taken from refuges or conservation areas.

Tips from the public helped to solve this case.

If you have any tips on Wildlife Crime, Contact Operation Game Thief: 1-800-522-8039.

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