COLUMBIA — Agents from the Missouri Department of Conservation cited seven goose hunters after five trumpeter swans were shot dead at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in southern Boone County on the morning of Dec. 30, 2008.
“There were three independent groups of hunters that took the swans at different parts of the day,” said Scott Rice, a conservation agent who cited four of the seven hunters. “Other hunters who saw the swans taken alerted (the Department of) Conservation, and we handed out citations to the parties when they got back from hunting.”
Rice said all of the hunters in question claimed that they mistook the swans for snow geese, a popular waterfowl currently in season. But as the largest native bird in North America, according to the department, trumpeter swans rarely are confused for the much smaller and differently colored snow geese. Rice said three independent incidents occurring on the same day also was peculiar.
“I personally don’t think it would be easy to mistake them," Rice said. "It was very odd, very unusual. We were shocked.”
Rice also was alarmed at the number of birds taken. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, trumpeter swans are classified as extirpated, meaning they rarely are seen in Missouri and no longer nest here because of excessive hunting. The large waterfowl are seen more commonly during the winter when they migrate from Canada and the northern Midwest.
“We’ve never had a case involving these swans before,” said Roger Johnson, Boone County assistant prosecuting attorney. “It’s rare for these swans to be in this part of the state. Poaching isn't rare, but this is a special case because of the rarity of the birds and efforts to reintroduce them into the wild.”
Neither Rice nor Johnson would release the names of the hunters who were cited.
As of Wednesday, the hunters had not been formally charged, Johnson said. Their arraignments have been set for Feb. 3 in Boone County Circuit Court.
Trumpeter swans can have 8-foot wingspans and are distinguished by their long neck and all-white plumage. Snow geese are much smaller and have black wingtips.
Conservation officials say hunters who killed three trumpeter swans in 2005 in Lawrence County were fined $5,000 and sentenced to six months in jail.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.