Wolves in the cross hairs
By Joanne Richard, Toronto Sun
Persecuted and attacked for centuries, wolves are neither big nor bad. Inarguably, they are the keepers of ecological balance, a keystone predator, and family oriented – and they are under attack again.
Wolves in Western Canada are in the crosshairs and a national campaign is howling for justice to end poisonous wolf culling. It’s not only wolves that are dying – pets and endangered species are the collateral damage when they accidentally eat highly-toxic poisons.
Controversial wolf-kill programs to conserve caribou, and protect livestock, are also hosted in B.C. Pop celebrity Miley Cyrus has called the wolf cull in B.C. a “war on wildlife.” There they use aerial shootings and snares, but it’s the use of poisons in Alberta that is particularly controversial and cruel.
“Strychnine causes extremely painful muscular convulsions with asphyxiation being the final cause of death, inducing one of the most painful, deliberate deaths man has ever devised,” says Sadie Parr, executive director at Wolf Awareness Inc., which is collaborating on a new campaign at wehowl.ca/poisonfree to ban the use of three poisons from the Canadian landscape. The campaign launched last week during Wolf Awareness Week.
In Alberta, beautiful Border collie Dulce convulsed to death in her owner’s arms from Strychnine poison intended for a predator. “Dulce was the light of my life. She was my constant, loving companion,” says Cristina Blackmore. “Making matters even worse was the fact that my two young grandchildren witnessed Dulce dying. We watched in despair how she suffered, crying and convulsing right in front of our eyes.”
Bragg Creek emergency vet Dr. Judith Samson-French has tended to a number of strychnine poisonings in dogs and “I could not reach for the euthanizing solution fast enough to put them out of their misery.” These toxicants fail to induce rapid loss of consciousness and each produces a great amount of fear, pain, and distress. Alberta farmers are permitted to use poisons to protect their livestock against predators.
A trio of toxicants – Strychnine, Compound 1080 and Sodium Cyanide – and other methods, including traps, snares, and aerial shooting, are used in Alberta, yet a 2014 study by some of the province’s leading caribou scientists reveals that killing hundreds of wolves has barely managed to stabilize the numbers of a threatened caribou herd, not increase it, in habitat increasingly disturbed by resource extraction.
An online survey at WeHowl.ca reveals that even people who support the killing of wolves are opposed to poison use, acknowledging it as inhumane and unethical, as well as irresponsible and dangerous to all that share a landscape. Carcasses containing strychnine and Compound 1080 are toxic to scavengers, causing widespread secondary poisoning through the food chain. Poisons can also leach into water and soil.
More than 1,000 wolves have been killed in Alberta since 2005, confer statistics. According to Brent Wittmeier, of Alberta Environment and Parks, the Canadian government is requiring provinces to protect threatened caribou populations, and the province is currently working on plans for each of the province’s 15 caribou ranges to guide future management and recovery.
Wittmeier says that while the province uses aerial tracking and shooting to control wolf populations, certain conditions make that strategy ineffective, and “toxicants are only used as a last resort in extreme cases, like when difficult terrain or snow pack make it impossible to track the animals by air,” says Wittmeier, adding that they’ve not used toxicants this year.
In B.C., targeted aerial removal of wolf packs to protect the caribou goes on in the Kootenays and South Peace – last winter 108 wolves were removed. Poisoning is not used but the cull has still garnered outrage, with research showing that aerial gunning and snares cause distress and agony. More than 20 conservation and animal welfare groups across North America oppose the B.C. cull.
“Wolves are the leading cause of mortality for mountain caribou in these areas,” writes the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in an email. “The number of wolves to be removed this coming winter and in future years will depend on how quickly wolves re-populate the areas. To contribute to caribou recovery, a minimum of 80% of the wolves in the treatment area need to be removed, and ideally all wolves will be taken.”
Pets the accidental victims
Every summer pets accidentally ingest poisons intended for wolves, coyotes and other wildlife, according to biologist Sheryl Fink, of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Just this spring sodium cyanide exploded on a 14-year-old boy walking his dog in Idaho, resulting in the agonizing death of a Labrador retriever and hospitalizing his young owner.
Sodium cyanide is most often used in a device called an M-44, also known as a cyanide bomb, says Fink. “A small cylinder containing sodium cyanide is driven into the ground on a stake, and spring-loaded to deliver a deadly dose of poison when an animal licks, bites, or pulls on the bait-laced fabric covering of the cylinder.”
Wolves a scapegoat
Wolves are a scapegoat, says Sadie Parr, executive director at Wolf Awareness Inc.
Killing wolves won’t bring caribou back from the brink that humans have pushed them to, stresses Parr. “The caribou are in this situation because of us, not because of wolves. The provinces have knowingly allowed industry to destroy caribou habitat for 50 years… Activities such as energy development, logging, mining, and high-impact recreation continue in critical caribou habitat.”
Conservationists are calling for better habitat management and maternal penning to improve caribou survival.