Wild TV, biologist and outfitters defend hunter at centre of Alberta cougar controversy

Death threats, hundreds of angry comments laced with curse words, even a penis put-down from the wife of a former prime minister. All after the host of an outdoor television show posted photos of himself holding a huge male cougar he shot.

'We fully support the ethical and legal kill that Steve Ecklund has presented us,' network president says

Canadian TV host Steve Ecklund holds a cougar in a photo from his Facebook page. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Death threats, hundreds of angry comments laced with curse words, even a penis put-down from the wife of a former prime minister.

The internet exploded with all that and more in the hours after the host of an outdoor television show posted photos of himself holding a huge male cougar he shot earlier this month in central Alberta.

By Thursday, the online calamity had morphed into a full-blown discussion about the merits of big-game hunting, with outfitters and a university wildlife biologist coming out in defence of Steve Ecklund, a minor TV celebrity who, for the moment, appears to be the most hated man in Canada.

Wild TV, the network that employs the man at the centre of the storm, posted a video Thursday on social media defending the host of a hunting program called The Edge.

In a 23-second Twitter video, Wild TV's president Ryan Kohler made it clear where the network stands.

"Wild TV is a hunting and fishing television network, and we fully support the ethical and legal kill that Steve Ecklund has presented us," Kohler said on the video. "Unfortunately, he's getting huge backlash. But that won't change the fact that we love our hunting heritage here in Canada and WILD TV will continue to support that."

Criticism 'unwarranted,' biologist says

Mark Boyce, a professor of population ecology with the University of Alberta, also defended Ecklund and said the avalanche of criticism is unwarranted.

"Cougar hunting is popular, especially with hounds," Boyce said in an email interview Thursday from his remote cabin. "The hound hunting season begins on Dec. 1 and strict quotas are set for males and for females in a number of cougar management areas."

There are 32 "cougar management areas" listed on the mywildalberta.ca website. Quotas for male and female cougars in each area range from one to five animals for the whole zone.

The story about Ecklund even drew scorn from Laureen Harper, wife of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

"What a creep," Harper wrote in a post on Twitter. "Chasing a cougar with dogs until they are exhausted then shooting a scared, cornered and tired animal. Must be compensating for something, small penis probably."

Boyce characterized Harper's comments as "an anti-hunting rant" since cougar hunting is legal.

"But I understand that some people do not accept hunting," he said. "That is a personal choice."

Gordon Burton, an outfitter with Alberta Hunt, a professional outfitters society in the province, said people who oppose hunting seem to easily draw lines between species that are OK to harvest and those that aren't.

Few people get angry when fish are caught or birds are shot out of the sky, he said.

'Somehow that's OK'

"What you have in all these cases are emotions, that people are trying to turn their emotions into a rational argument," Burton said. "When they see the cougar has been killed, that stirs an emotion in them. And then they try to rationalize that emotion after the fact."

Some of the contempt heaped on Ecklund focused on the fact that he hunted his cougar using tracking dogs.

But Burton said hunters can't tell a female cougar from a male from any distance. Hunting the animals with dogs allows shooters to be selective about the animals they harvest.

Hunter Joe Eppele talks about Steve Ecklund’s kill, the controversy around it and the effort Eppele makes to hunt responsibly 6:58

"People hunt birds with dogs as well," he said. "Somehow that's OK."

It's common practice for hunters to use dogs to flush a pheasant, for example, before shooting it.

"So, would the argument be that I've got a small penis because I used a dog?" he asked. "[Because] when that terrible exhausted and frightened pheasant had no other recourse but to fly in the air, I shot him."

Burton noted that B.C. recently banned grizzly hunting.

"What you see coming into the argument all the time is labelling. Trophy hunting. What is that exactly? Nobody's able to define it, other than killing for fun. So if you're hunting and you're enjoying it, then that's wrong. That's what they're saying."

Cougar hunting is legal in Alberta from Sept. 1 to the end of February for residents, and from Dec. 1 to the end of February for non-residents.

The season in a particular area remains open until a predetermined number of animals have been taken. Then the season is closed in that area.

"Cougars are in no way endangered," Burton said. "Even though people would like you to think they are."

About the Author

Rick McConnell

Rick McConnell has a boxful of journalism awards buried somewhere in his basement. He covers the Oilers and toils as a copy editor for CBC Edmonton.

with files from Raffy Boudjikanian and The Canadian Press