Using poison to cull wolves in Alberta is inhumane, says animal advocacy group

A conservation group says the province's use of poison as a way to cull wolves is inhumane and kills too many other animals inadvertently.

1,200 wolves and about 250 other animals have been killed since the program began in 2005

A wildlife group wants the province to stop using poison to cull wolves, calling it an inhumane way of killing animals. (River Road Productions)

A conservation group says the province's use of poison as a way to cull wolves is inhumane and kills too many other animals inadvertently. 

Numbers obtained by Wolf Awareness Inc. through the Freedom of Information Act show about 1,200 wolves have been culled since the population control program began in 2005.

About 250 other animals have also been accidentally poisoned, according to the Alberta government.

Most of those are ravens but the list includes among other creatures a bald eagle, a golden eagle, coyotes, foxes, skunks, lynx and a grizzly bear, which is listed as a threatened species under Alberta's Wildlife Act.

That death tally doesn't include the bait animals. An animal such as a moose or deer is shot, then the carcass is poisoned, said veterinarian Judith Sampson-French, a former conservation biologist with Alberta Fish and Wildlife.

Animals besides wolves feed on the carcass and are subsequently killed too, which Wolf Awareness Inc. calls unethical and inhumane.

"Some people are calling it a grand-scaled wildlife genocide because it's very non-targeted," said Sampson-French.

"The whole ecosystem is starting to break down because we're getting way beyond ravens dying here, we're getting caribou, we're getting grizzly bears, eagles, cougars, all of those animals."

Judit Smits, a veterinarian with a PhD in environmental toxicology, said the use of strychnine as a poison is especially troubling.

"We've been really discouraging the use of strychnine for predator control a long time because we are really aware of how totally inhumane it is," she said.

"It takes a long time to die. The animals are completely lucid throughout the whole poisoning episode," she said. 

"They can hear everything, the can see everything, they can feel everything."

Veterinarian Judit Smits says the province shouldn't be using strychnine as part of its annual wolf cull. (Sarah Lawryniuk/CBC)

Strychnine causes the animal's muscles to contract, said Smits, including the diaphragm, which eventually suffocates them.

The province also uses firearms and poison to kill the wolves. 

One reason for the wolf cull is to protect caribou herds, which are listed as at risk in Alberta.

Dave Hervieux, the province's expert on caribou preservation, said while the situation isn't ideal, it's about balancing the options they have in front of them.

"It is a complicated issue, obviously," he said.

Another industry that can adversely affect caribou habitat is resource extraction, which he pointed out is a sanctioned activity throughout caribou ranges.

"It's trying to find a balance that will adequately enable those economic activities, but also have real and tangible benefits for caribou into the future."

Hervieux said caribou populations have not risen or fallen significantly since the wolf cull began.


  • An earlier version of this story indicated that about 1,200 wolves and another 100 animals have been killed since the wolf population control program began in 2005. In fact, about 250 animals have died, apart from the wolves and not counting the bait animals.
    Nov 07, 2017 3:00 PM MT

With files from Sarah Lawryniuk