An inhumane slaughter of wolves is occurring at the hands of the Alberta government. This unscientific and unethical wolf cull is a consequence of oil and gas development, and industrial logging, which have endangered woodland caribou. The Alberta government and resource industries have transformed the caribou's boreal habitat into a landscape that can no longer provide the food, cover, and security these animals need to survive. Rather than address the real problem, i.e. the destruction of life sustaining caribou habitat, Alberta has chosen to scapegoat wolves, many of which are now using an extensive, industry-generated network of new roads and corridors to reach dwindling numbers of caribou.
For a decade now, the Alberta government has hired biologists, along with the equivalent of hit men, to kill more than 1,000 wolves via aerial gunning from helicopters, poisoning with strychnine, and strangling with neck snares. They also trap, collar, and create so-called "Judas" wolves, which are used to betray the location of other pack members. After killing all the members of the pack except the collared wolf, the "Judas" wolf then leads the gunners to more wolves and watches as they too are slaughtered.
In addition to aerial gunning, strychnine is set out to poison wolves. Many other species that incidentally eat the poison also die excruciating deaths. Neck snares, another form of torture and cause of suffering, are also employed. Information up to 2012 shows that in the Little Smokey region of Alberta, neck snares (primarily) killed a minimum of 676 other animals in addition to wolves. Ironically, caribou were among the non-target animals that were killed.
The Alberta government has more lethal control planned for Little Smoky and elsewhere in the oilpatch. In November 2014, the province issued a Request for Proposal to contract "helicopter services for caribou tracking, captures and radio-collaring, and for wolf tracking, captures, radio-collaring and lethal control activities until March 31, 2015." Standing out among the project objectives stated in the RFP is "wolf lethal control - euthanizing wolves from the air, using firearms. Requires specialized skills to track, locate and kill both radio collared and non-radio collared wolves from the air."
Shooting is considered an effective method of humane killing (Canadian Council on Animal Care 1993) of wild animals if carried out by experts and the animal is shot at close range. The bullet must strike the brain to render the animal immediately insensitive to pain, or less favourably the heart and lungs. Chasing and shooting a running animal from a helicopter is obviously not conducive to a perfect necessary to render animals immediately insensitive to pain. Clearly, aerial shooting of wolves does not comply with CCAC guidelines.
Strychnine has long been judged inadequate to euthanize animals (CCAC 1973). The animal dies from asphyxiation caused by paralysis of the respiratory muscles. Considering that euthanasia implies death without signs of panic, pain, or distress, minimum time to loss of consciousness, and minimal undesirable physiological and psychological effects on the animal, death through poisoning with strychnine does not comply with CCAC guidelines.
Snares are the most inhumane legally allowed traps in use. Snares can catch animals by the neck, midsection, or a limb. As the animal struggles to become free, the wire grows tighter around the animal's body. This can result in broken legs, crushed organs, and suffocation. Animals caught in these traps die slow, painful deaths. The use of neck snares to kill wolves is a violation of an international treaty, "The Agreement of International Humane Trapping Standards," of which Canada is a signatory and that came into force on June 1, 1999.
Raincoast Conservation Foundation large carnivore experts Dr. Heather Bryan and Dr. Paul Paquet, along with colleagues at the University of Calgary and Bar-Ilan University, Israel, have authored a seminal scientific paper, published in the British journal Functional Ecology, which suggests wolves that are heavily hunted or subjected to intensive lethal control (such as the Little Smoky cull) experience significant social and physiological stress. The scientists used tiny tufts of hair to measure the hormones cortisol, testosterone, and progesterone in wolves subject to different hunting pressures in Canada.
Although the long-term effects of chronically elevated stress and reproductive hormones are unknown, there are potential implications for wildlife health, welfare, long-term survival, and behaviour. The effects of stress are often subtle, but the ensuing harm can be acute, chronic, and permanent, sometimes spanning generations.
The slaughter of wolves in Alberta is emblematic of an anachronistic and harmful wildlife management paradigm all too prevalent across Canada. It also reflects and is the result of our society's choice to stay the course with the unsustainable industrial scale fossil fuel extraction that is the root cause of the Alberta wolf cull.
Mirroring Alberta, the the government of British Columbia has just announced a plan to kill close to 200 wolves in the South Selkirk and South Peace regions of the province to ostensibly "save caribou." The B.C. cull will employ helicopter gunning of wolves, carried out before the snowmelt.
In an interview with The Tyee, Dr. Chris Darimont, Raincoast science director and Hakai-Raincoast professor in geography at the University of Victoria, said, "This is a last ditch, Hail Mary effort to save caribou that are on their way out not because of wolves, but because of development, and aggressive development, by humans in their habitat for a few decades now." Citing research from the Alberta wolf cull, Darimont, a large carnivore expert, said the B.C. government's "way of dealing with it will likely not work... these landscapes are not going to favour caribou again for a very long time. The damage that's been done is greater than the ability of caribou to recover, even with aggressive intervention."
The macabre exercises in futility represented by the Alberta and B.C. wolf culls mask the obdurate refusal to acknowledge the ultimate cause of caribou decline in both provinces. "Governments and the industries most accountable for the demise of Canada's natural environment have perversely and consistently diverted responsibility and accountability to others, including grey wolves," said Raincoast senior scientist Paul Paquet.
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