OREM — A bear that was illegally poached in Utah recently received new life inside a high school with a bear mascot.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources presented Mountain View High School, home of the Bruins, with a taxidermy bear mount back in May, but state wildlife officials shared the recent gift this week.
The bear itself was recovered after a 2018 poaching case in southern Utah. DWR conservation officer Jeremy Wilcox, who was assigned the case, said it all began when officials noticed a bear with a collar going to the same place daily. It helped wildlife authorities locate a pair of illegally used bait stations and during that investigation, they learned of another bear killed at one of the stations.
The investigation ultimately led to the discovery of three bears that were killed illegally and a pair of felony convictions last year. As a part of those convictions, the poachers had hunting privileges revoked for seven years and taxidermy bear mounts and rugs were confiscated, Wilcox said.
After that process was over, a volunteer donated time and material to create a base for a bear mount. Wilcox wanted to donate the mount to somewhere where it could be seen and enjoyed by people. After a quick search, they came in contact with Mountain View High School in Orem.
The bear mount is something students haven’t seen yet since classes moved to online learning across the state during the coronavirus pandemic. But when the school does reopen, wildlife officials hope the bear will be cherished by students.
Wilcox said he hopes that some sort of marker or plaque to note that the bear was poached will be added to it so people are aware of poaching in the state.
There were nearly 2,000 animals illegally killed in Utah in 2018 and 2019 combined. Many cases have been reported this year, as well.
"The people who see (the donated bear), unless they talk to somebody in the faculty that knows that was a poached bear, they’ll just see a bear. … I want people to see it to know that it was poached, it was killed illegally and people are watching," Wilcox said. "If it’s poached, you’ll be caught."
Anyone who spots poaching in Utah or has information about a case can call 1-800-662-3337 to reach the DWR's 24-hour, 365-day hotline; the agency also has an online portal to report poaching.