Game Warden Mark Collins will never forget when the phone rang on December 13th. "And he called me up and said, 'There's something out here you need to see.'"
He's seen just about everything. His office walls are lined with stories. Like the one about the rattlesnake that almost bit his friend, except Mark was a faster draw. "Where did you shoot the snake?" the reporter asked. "In the head," he dead-panned. "Right in the head."
But even a grizzled rattlesnake-killin'-friend-savin' game warden like Mark wasn't prepared for December 13th. "I just shook my head, I couldn't believe what I was looking at," he said.
Dead swans. Trumpeters. Two of just 1,200 in the world. "I knew they'd been shot, no doubt in my mind," he said. Gunned down over the skies of Floyd County, and not alone. "We started looking around and we found three more. Now we had five. Two dead, three wounded," he said.
Rescuing the world's largest water fowl wouldn't be easy. Mark captured the birds Texas style - with a lasso. "Took quite a while, they were not real receptive to getting roped, but we had to help them out," he laughed.
Taken to the South Plains Wildlife Rehab Center, they were bandaged and tube fed for two weeks. One was euthanized due to his injuries. Meanwhile, Mark and his fellow warden Jay Oyler were intent on finding the perpetrators. "We never slowed down for eight straight days," he said. They interviewed 51 people, traveled to 10 different cities, and logged 2,802 miles. "It's probably as intense an investigation as I've ever been involved in," he said.
Finally, 25-year-old Lockney resident Joshua Lambert cracked. "And we put quite a bit of pressure on him. But to his credit he finally decided it was time to give it up," he said. Also involved? 53-year-old Harry Crawford along with relatives James and Cristy, from Paris, Texas.
As to why they did it? "Good question," said Collins. "No, they never did intonate why they shot the birds," he said.
But they will certainly regret it. Total fines, $17,000 and a lesson in the tenacity of two Texas Game Wardens. "I guess they wanted to see how much work two game wardens would go through to catch them," he laughed.