Thoughts of the Canadian wilderness in wintertime bring to mind scenes of beauty and tranquility. Holiday cards are adorned with images of snow-covered trees and majestic animals like reindeer, snowy owls, wolves, and bright red cardinals. Yet it is in these picturesque landscapes that the Alberta government will place the deadly and indiscriminate poison known as strychnine in an effort to kill wolves this winter. Animals throughout the food chain will suffer and die agonizing deaths, but because the devastation will be spread across a vast snow-covered wilderness, many victims will remain hidden and unknown.
Strychnine is one of three poisons used to kill wildlife such as wolves, coyotes, black bears, and skunks deemed “pests” in Alberta and Saskatchewan. When animals ingest these poisons, they experience severe and prolonged pain and suffering before they succumb to death. Although the intended targets of strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide baits are generally used for predators such as wolves and coyotes, other animals often consume the poisoned baits as well. Because it can take hours, or even days, for animals to die after ingesting poison from a bait, the bodies of poisoned victims can be scattered across great distances, only to be scavenged by other unsuspecting animals who will then suffer the same gruesome death due to secondary poisoning.
We believe that using strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide to kill wildlife is cruel and irresponsible. That’s why Animal Justice and Wolf Awareness, with support from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Animal Alliance of Canada, the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Born Free USA, Cochrane Ecological Institute, Coyote Watch Canada, the Fur-Bearers, Predator Defense, Zoocheck, World Animal Protection, Ecojustice, the David Suzuki foundation, and Humane Society International Canada have filed three requests under the Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) asking that pest control products containing these poisons be banned for use in Canada.
This is an issue Canadians care deeply about. An Environics poll commissioned by Animal Justice and Wolf Awareness shows that 69% of Canadians agree that the risks posed by Strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide used in Canadian wildlife management programs are unacceptable.
Indiscriminate Poisons Cause Widespread Suffering
It is difficult to overstate the extreme pain and distress experienced by animals who ingest these poisons. Strychnine and Compound 1080 in particular cause such severe suffering that they have been deemed inhumane and inappropriate for use by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and other scientific and veterinary expert bodies. In 2018, 50 leading experts called on Health Canada to ban the use of poisons to kill wildlife in Canada, citing the inhumane and indiscriminate nature of the poisons; risks to endangered species, pets, and humans; and the ineffectiveness of poisoning wildlife to protect livestock and caribou.
Once placed on the landscape, poisons such as strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide can have far-reaching and devastating effects. These poisons have been known to kill sensitive species and species at risk, including American badgers, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and swift foxes. Because poisoned animals can travel great distances before dying, it is impossible to know the full scope of the damage caused by poisons used to kill wildlife.
In our requests, Animal Justice and Wolf Awareness document extensive non-compliance with label restrictions intended to protect non-target animals from suffering and death due to primary and secondary poisoning. Problems with storage and record keeping, as well as the monitoring and retrieval of poisonous baits and the bodies of poisoned animals, increase the risks these poisons pose to the health of wild and domestic animals, as well as people.
Compounding the significant risks posed by strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide is the reality that using poisons to kill wolves and other carnivores is not even an effective way to protect livestock. Scientific evidence shows that using poisons to kill animals suspected of preying on cows and other livestock does not reliably prevent future livestock predation events. In fact, lethal removal of carnivores can backfire and lead to increased levels of conflict. Safer and more effective alternatives exist to prevent and reduce conflicts between farmed animals and wildlife.
Similarly, poisoning wildlife is not an effective way to protect at-risk caribou populations. In the winter, baits containing strychnine are placed on public lands in Alberta’s A La Peche and Little Smoky caribou herd ranges, but many scientists have condemned this practice as environmentally unethical. Furthermore, scientists are increasingly questioning the effectiveness of using poisonous baits to protect caribou. Rather than releasing a dangerous and indiscriminate poison into these ecosystems, Alberta should focus its efforts on the most serious threat facing caribou species – habitat loss caused primarily by oil and gas development, and other industrial activities.
Hundreds of companion dogs have suffered agonizing deaths after ingesting poisons intended to kill wildlife in Canada, including in British Columbia where the poisons are illegal. In 2017, an Idaho teenager narrowly escaped with his life after trying to save his dog who died after mistakenly biting into a sodium cyanide bait intended to kill coyotes. After the incident, Idaho and Oregon banned the use of M-44 Cyanide bombs. Canada should take action now to prevent the devastating risks posed by Cyanide bombs, as well as strychnine and Compound 1080.
Special Reviews under the Pest Control Products Act
Animal Justice and Wolf Awareness submitted three requests under section 17 of the PCPA, asking that the Minister of Health conduct a special review of the registration of all pest control products containing strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide because the health and environmental risks of these products are unacceptably high, and their value is unacceptably low.
Given the strong scientific evidence about the risks that products containing these poisons pose to wildlife, humans, and companion dogs, as well as their ineffectiveness at protecting livestock and caribou from natural predators, it is our hope that after conducting a special review, the Minister will cancel the products’ registration. These poisons should be banned for use in Canada.
In fact, Health Canada recently decided to ban the use of strychnine to kill ground squirrels because the environmental risks are too high, with thousands of non-target animals, including songbirds and endangered species, being killed each year. Because the use of strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide to kill large carnivores such as wolves poses similar risks, these poisons should be banned for all uses.
Take action to stop the use of cruel poisons to kill wildlife
Animals such as wolves, coyotes, and black bears are not “pests”. They do not pose risks to human health or the environment, and in fact provide important benefits for the ecosystems in which they live. These sentient, intelligent animals deserve our compassion and respect.
Please take action now and tell the Minister to ban the use of strychnine, Compound 1080, and sodium cyanide to kill wildlife in Canada.