British Columbia

Scientists did not euthanize 24 endangered caribou in Northern B.C., as B.C. MLA claimed

The controversy over protecting B.C.'s endangered caribou spilled over into social media, after the B.C. Liberal critic on the file posted a false story. John Rustad stated scientists euthanized 24 mountain caribou in northeastern B.C. after a maternity penning study.

B.C. Liberal spokesman on the caribou file clarifies incorrect social media post

A caribou recovery strategy has sparked controversy and divisiveness in parts of the B.C. Interior. (Submitted by Mark Bradley, Parks Canada)

B.C.'s opposition critic for caribou recovery has clarified a false social media post, days after he stated scientists euthanized 24 endangered mountain caribou in Northern B.C.

"If there's errors and stuff made, I certainly don't want to be part of what would be considered fake news," Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad told CBC News in an interview. "At the same time, when information  like that comes forward, it's a piece of information that's worth sharing."

John Rustad gestures as he speaks in front of a building on a street. He's a white man with white hair and glasses.
MLA John Rustad is a former cabinet minister. Currently, he's the B.C. Liberal opposition critic on the caribou file. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC )

Rustad, a former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister, said he was alerted to the euthanization story by a logging contractor in northeastern B.C., whose land was used in the caribou study. The MLA said the contractor is facing the loss of work and staff layoffs due to caribou protection efforts.

Plans to saving endangered caribou controversial 

The B.C. government's plan to save threatened caribou herds has sparked a strong backlash in the B.C. Interior, where forestry and mining jobs are at risk due to backcountry closures in sensitive habitat. At public meetings, some people questioned the government's science.

The euthanasia story "was very shocking to hear," Rustad told CBC News in an interview. "That's why I posted it."

John Rustad's initial post stated 24 caribou were euthanized after a maternity penning study in northeastern B.C. (Facebook )

Rustad said he didn't try to verify the information.

Rustad's initial social media post stated scientists conducted a maternity penning study using 24 mountain caribou in the Peace. 

Maternity penning is one strategy conservation officials say is helping B.C.'s endangered herds slowly recover in northeastern B.C.

"The best performance was in a logging cutblock," Rustad, the B.C. Liberal critic for Forestry, Lands, and Natural Resource Development,  wrote in his post.

'They euthanized the caribou'

"Once the scientists wrapped up their project, they euthanized the caribou," Rustad wrote. 

"The contractor asked why didn't you just release them into the wild?" Rustad wrote. "The response from the scientists was that they would likely be eaten by wolves and bears so this was more humane."

Rustad posted the information on Facebook Friday, in a post that was shared dozens of times and sparked numerous comments. 

But B.C. government officials, a scientist, and an Indigenous leader active in caribou recovery contradict Rustad's account. 

A caribou maternal penning project in northeastern B.C. aims to restore endangered herds. But the study John Rustad cited on social media was actually focused on caribou's dietary needs. (Wildlife Infometrics)

In an emailed response to a query from CBC News, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations stated the research  actually studied caribou's dietary needs, not maternity pens. The caribou used in the study were not endangered mountain caribou but domesticated, bottle-fed animals brought in from Alaska for research purposes.  

Scientist flags 'misinformation'

The lead researcher on the study, John Cook, an international research scientist in large ungulate ecology calls Rustad's original post "misinformation." 

Cook said 15 domesticated caribou were brought from Alaska to Canada to use for research in B.C. and Ontario. With a number of live births over the course of the study, Cook said there were 23 caribou when the research ended. 

Cook said all but two of the domesticated caribou were then donated to zoos in Toronto, Saskatoon and Peterborough, with the involvement of provincial and federal officials and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 

2 caribou were euthanized, not 24

Cook said two yearling bull caribou were euthanized.

"The zoos did not have facilities to hold these bulls ... because, as they grow, they can be quite dangerous during the rutting period ... to both humans and other caribou.  They could not be released to the wild because they were genetically different than the caribou in ... Canada, and because they were tame, they would have a poor chance of survival in the wild."

Chief Roland Wilson's West Moberly Lake First Nation helped craft B.C.'s caribou recovery plan and runs a successful maternity penning project. 

"It's surprising to me that stuff like that is still being posted out there," said Wilson "[Rustad]'s a pretty intelligent individual. He should be able to see through this. There's lots of people that are just creating havoc." 

Rustad said he is now updating his social media posts, calling the true facts of the story "very good news."

"I'm very pleased to hear the animals which were part of the study have gone off to other lives," he told CBC News.  


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.