Sunday, November 17, 2013

The War on Wolves - an Animal Welfare Issue

Predators occupy quite a space in the human psyche. Humans have been “at war” with many of them since the earliest days of livestock domestication. While the lion occupies the imagination people everywhere, in North America no predator is more symbolic of this war than the wolf. Our attitudes are ever fluctuating. There are websites and social media gatherings where the full range, from “kill them all” to “full protection” is on display.

These two very opposite views about them were written about another pack-hunting wild canid, in this case the African wild dog.

In 1914, one R. Maugham wrote: "Let us consider for a moment that abomination - that blot upon the many interesting wild things - the murderous Wild Dog.  It will be an excellent day for African game and its preservation when means can be devised for its complete extermination." 

These words could easily be used by the anti-wolf crowd in 2013. 

Dr. Kobus Raath's ;picture of wilfe dogs in Kruger N P
The other view, also resonates for many folks. They were written in 1997 by  David MacDonald of Oxford University.  “To nominate one sight as the most beautiful I have seen might, in a world filled with natural marvels, be considered disingenuous. Yet, of images jostling for supremacy in my memory, it is hard to better the bounding forms of African wild dogs, skiffing like golden pebbles across a sea of sunburnt grass at dusk.”

A group of concerned, but balanced individuals has recently launched a website that examines some of the many issues . They are particularly concerned about some of the aspects of wolf management in Alberta, and by extension elsewhere in North America. 

Myrna Pearman's beautiful picture is one of the site's headers.

As you skull around the site you will find links and articles by people who have had an enormous amount of experience with wolf management and are concerned with the way that things are developing.

Among them are Dr. Lu Carbyn, noted world wolf authority, who has expressed deep concerns and  published an article critical of the province's wolf bounty program in the Journal of the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists.


There are very obvious animal welfare issues at hand. Dr. Jose Diaz of the University of Calgary, who is an accredited specialist in animal neurology examines the effects of snares in his piece in the Gallery of Shame http://www.wolfmatters.org/articles.html -

Dwight Rodtka, who worked with wolves for his entire career has contributed pieces to the site. Dwight expresses deep concern not only about the Alberta government’s whole wolf program but very specifically about snares, which he states in his piece The Truth About Snares  are “archaic and torturous devices which should have been banned years ago.”


Dr. Garcia examines the damage. The lion died as he arrived on scene.
I have seen the aftermath of snaring in several African countries but perhaps the most dramatic one was of a dying lion in Tanzania’s Serengeti. The animal’s end was witnessed by friend and former student Dr. Patrick Garcia. 

Gruesome fits the scene well.

It is much more than just snares and traps. My own contribution to the debate is also from an animal welfare perspective. It is about poisoning and comes straight from things I witnessed in Kenya 45 years ago. 

You can read the piece at the link above, but if your time is short here is my opening:  

The debate, seldom polite, often vigorous, about the wolf and its presence among us often becomes a “to poison or not to poison” matter. The subject waxes and wanes, but today, in parts of Alberta and British Columbia, indeed in many parts of North America, it is indeed the question, and strychnine is the apparent sling and arrow.    

I suspect that most people who espouse the poisoning route have never seen the effects of this deadly substance on any animal.

Unfortunately I have.

In the body of the article I quoted wolf biologist Bob Hayes about the “by-catch” effects of strychnine. They are horrific. Bob worked in Canada’s Yukon for many years on wolf control. His 2010 book Wolves of the Yukon is a very worthwhile read.
 
I closed with this:
If the rancher who cannot prevent wolf attacks by other methods (which do exist) and has to use this deadly substance to “take arms against a sea of troubles” caused by livestock predation then we are in a sorry state.

Strychnine poisoning is very definitely an animal welfare issue. Its use is inhumane. 

 

I am by no means alone in this view and I hope that other veterinarians feel the same. If they do, rather than write to me I hope they will comment on the Wolf Matters page

Of course poisoning of predators is nothing new. I photographed this Calgary Herald page in 1995.


Scary, or what?
An interesting view is taken in the Earth Island Journal, which heads its piece with this extraordinary picture that first appeared on Facebook.

You can read the rest of the article at the link and of course find links within that that take one further. It reminds me of a video scene I witnessed during the emotional times of the translocation of wolves from Banff National Park in Canada in 1995 to Yellowstone and Idaho. A witness at a hearing in Wyoming said: “The wolf is The Saddam Hussein of the animal kingdom.” She was serious.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Stories about Moose and a Wildlife Vet in Africa in British Columbia


We have just finished up another storytelling and book tour. Eight libraries, one sporting goods store and a wind-up at the University of Northern British Columbia. All  in 7 days. I tried to find a map to show all the communities, but could not quite manage it. 

This one shows 8 of the 10 spots. I added Granisle and Fraser Lake and each place has an italicized number, showing the order of the events.

We started in McBride where the folks enjoy decorating anything you can think of, including their fire hydrants. Why not?  Our total distance on the road, including the leg from home was just over 4500 km.

Fraser Lake, after the session. Thanks
Miake Ellott and me outside the Houston store
Just as in our trip to Yukon I offered one of two sets of stories, with pictures. Either A Wildlife Vet in Africa or Of Moose and Men Around the World. This time there was a split. The folks in Granisle, (at the very top left-hand corner of the map) and Houston went with the moose set. Everyone else chose Africa. In only one case, for the students at UNBC, did I know ahead of time which one it would be.

The odd tea break was an essential element

We had a great reunion Williams Lake with one of the students who joined Jo and me in Uganda. Dr. Ross Hawkes practices there and we reminisced a bout a whole bunch of things after the talk. 

Ross (the redhead 2nd from left back row) classmates & Ugandan students 2007
It was Ross and his class-mate Kevin Oomah who came up with the novel, some would say crazy, idea of subjecting themselves to a full bikini-wax hair strip of the hair above their waists in order to raise money for the schools that we have supported in Uganda over the years. In 50 minutes their generous “donation” generated $1800 !  I had not known, until Ross delved into his files, that there was video evidence of this event. If he and Kevin will allow it I would like to show that in a future post.

Most of our audiences were adult, but in Quesnel we had a surprise. A group of home-schooled children and their parents showed up. They were the only audience – the session was set for 10.00 am and it would have been tough for adults to get away from work. This meant that I had to change on the fly and luckily this was not too difficult. After telling them a little about my background, I began with stories about my own experiences with giraffes, which gave me the entry into the folk story about why giraffes are so tall. 

video
A couple more folk stories, with the little ones involved and with grins, and we had a happy crowd. I ended with a food-chain account of why hippos are so important for the health of the great lakes of Africa. This one resonated with one of the older boys who happens to be studying the food-chain right now! 

After the Quesnel set we needed a lunch break. Luckily we found a local bakery, and had soup like your mother made it. Yum!

Philippe Henry's snap of the audience before the start
The largest crowd was at Prince George’s University of Northern British Columbia, where student Gabrielle Aubertin and faculty member Philippe Henry had done a fine job of getting the news out. I told stories about work with rhinos, lions, elephants and a run-in with safari ants. The stories were for an adult audience, but included two folk tales. The first was about why wild dog’s wife got very sick and why they now hunt in packs, the second about the hippos again. I used two famous quotes. 


The first from one R. Maugham in 1914, which one might think was being recycled for the attitude of some towards wolves a hundred years on. Here it is:

"Let us consider for a moment that abomination - that blot upon the many interesting wild things - the murderous Wild Dog.  It will be an excellent day for African game and its preservation when means can be devised for its complete extermination."

The other from David MacDonald of Oxford University which sums up my own thinking.

“To nominate one sight as the most beautiful I have seen might, in a world filled with natural marvels, be considered disingenuous. Yet, of images jostling for supremacy in my memory, it is hard to better the bounding forms of African wild dogs, skiffing like golden pebbles across a sea of sunburnt grass at dusk.”

I was delighted with the reactions from the folks, which came on FB. 
Gabrielle wrote “Thank you for the great talk, I have only received positive comments, so I think everyone enjoyed it. How could they not. I thought it was a great mix of facts to stimulate the scientist brain, of beautiful images that would make anyone dream of having career like your and it was also funny!"

Philippe wrote:  I kept getting comments in the hallway yesterday: beautifully told stories with real value for the conservation of our living world, thanks again for taking the long trip here:)