Raj Ataya began his career as a Texas Game Warden a little later than most.

“In my late thirties, I decided I wanted to be a game warden,” said Ataya. “I applied to become a Texas Game Warden cadet, got in on my first try and graduated from the Game Warden Training Center in 2017. My first duty station was in Orange County, which is very close to home. I’ve been here ever since.”

Ataya’s experience was a little unusual because the vast majority of those who are accepted to become a game warden cadet don’t get in on their first try. Most years, about 90% of Texas Game Warden cadets have tried at least once, and sometimes several times before being selected for the highly competitive training academy.

Ataya’s life experiences are also atypical for most game wardens. He graduated from Baylor with a degree in international business and entrepreneurship and built a successful business involving restaurants and real estate right out of college. He is still a partner in the business, but no longer involved in the day-to-day work that keeps it running.

“When I was young, I wanted to be in law enforcement, but I put that dream aside after college. After I got my business established, I started thinking about law enforcement again and right about that time, I met Texas Game Warden Colt Crawford at the gym. He became my workout buddy, then best friend, and he took me on several ride-alongs to show me what he did. That sealed the deal and I decided to go for it.”

Ataya’s dedication to his new career is evidenced in everything he does, including returning to school to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice from Lamar University, a feat he accomplished while working fulltime as a Texas Game Warden. He loves just about everything about his job, especially his duties related to water safety.

“I really like being on the water, and I enjoy operating all the different types of vessels that we have. Airboats, patrol boats, surface drive boats, flat-bottom boats and SAFE boats; we have it all over here. I also really enjoy being connected to the local community here. That’s a big priority for Texas Game Wardens.”

Ataya’s work has been recognized at the local, state and even national levels. In May he was honored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission as the 2021 National Association of State Boating Law Administration (NASBLA) Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. This award recognizes an officer who has made outstanding contributions to the field of boating law enforcement. He won NASBLA’s Southern Region Officer of the year in July and is one of three finalists for the top national award, which will be announced soon.

Ataya is plugged into his community and is very appreciative of the support Texas Game Wardens receive from local citizens and businesses through Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program. Gear Up for Game Wardens raises private funds for specialty gear that helps Texas Game Wardens do their jobs more effectively. A recent fundraiser in Beaumont raised more than $100,000 that was put to use immediately. Gear Up funds were used to purchase a Minn Kota Raptor, which allows Ataya to drop an anchor when he ties on to another boat for a law enforcement check.

“I’ve used it more than 50 times in the last couple of months. It anchors both boats in place so we don’t have to worry about drifting while we are making a check. It’s a wonderful piece of equipment that helps us do our jobs safely.”

While Ataya spends a lot of time on the water, his other specialty is as a drone operator. He is called in often to assist in search and rescue and other law enforcement operations.

“Gear Up has been a godsend because there’s no way we can keep up with the fast-changing technology. Thanks to these private donations through Gear Up, we have access to the latest thermal drone technology.”

As Ataya continues to do the job he loves, he is heartened by the support Texas Game Wardens receive from his community through Gear Up for Game Wardens.

“It’s really amazing and it gives us a real good feeling to know that support is there. We’ve got a very special relationship with these folks, and we’re proud to serve them as Texas Game Wardens.”