FEATURES - SPRING '96
ORPHANED WILDLIFE? NOT!
CASE IN POINT
THE RETURN OF THE PEREGRINE
By Bruce Treichel
After almost 30 years, the peregrine falcon has returned to nest and hunt in southern Alberta.
The peregrine falcon, one of the most magnificent birds of prey, is found on all continents except Antarctica. It is crow-sized with a slate blue back, wings and tail and a white to salmon-colored breast covered with dark barring. It feeds almost exclusively on birds which are taken in chases or in spectacular dives or "stoops" where speeds have been estimated to reach 300 kmh. The peregrine usually nests near water and will use ledges, holes or old stick nests situated on cliffs. It is highly regarded by falconers and has been considered to be the ultimate falconry bird for more than 4,000 years.
This spectacular bird of prey was once fairly common along the rivers of southern Alberta including the North and South Saskatchewan, Red Deer, Bow and Oldman. But during the 1960s the population began to decline and the last known nest in southern Alberta failed in 1972. The reason for this decline was pesticide contamination, mainly by the chlorinated hydrocarbon DDT. This commonly used insecticide caused reproductive failure through eggshell thinning and breakage. The problem was not isolated to Alberta but occurred worldwide. Biologists from most regions of the planet documented pollution in peregrines and declines in their populations.
The use of DDT was banned in the United States and Canada in the early 1970s but because it breaks down very slowly, it is still found in the environment. Moreover, this chemical is still used in many Latin American countries where Canadian peregrines and some of their prey spend the winter.
In 1970, 12 wild peregrine nestlings from Alberta, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Labrador were taken into captivity to establish a breeding program. These birds formed the nucleus of a Canadian Wildlife Service captive breeding program that would supply birds for release for the next 26 years. In 1976, the first attempt at reintroduction was tried in the City of Edmonton. This reintroduction resulted in a nesting pair of peregrines at the AGT building in downtown Edmonton. Arrow, the female peregrine, was to return for 12 consecutive years and produce a total of 10 of her own young as well as raising 18 captive raised foster young. Another pair established a nest in downtown Calgary in 1983, however no pairs were found nesting in rural Alberta during the early 1980s. Captive raised young were fostered into urban nests, especially when these nests failed or when they had only a few of their own young. Analyses for contaminants in unhatched eggs showed that pesticide levels were still fairly high in the early 1980s causing relatively poor nest success. In 1986, re-introductions were stopped until the pesticide situation improved. Fostering young to existing nests continued to ensure the survival of Alberta's remnant population.
By the late 1980s, pesticide levels were declining so conditions appeared suitable for reintroduction into the historical peregrine range in southern Alberta. Surveys were conducted to determine the best release locations and three sites were chosen: two on the Red Deer River and one on the Bow River. Due to strong public support, donations were acquired from organizations such as The Edmonton Natural History Club; Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation; World Wildlife Fund and Petro Canada.
The Southern Alberta Peregrine Reintroduction Program began in 1992, the first year of a five year program. The program is based on a technique known as hacking. This involves placing four to six 35-day-old chicks into an enclosure on a cliff, either a man-made wooden structure or a man-made hole in a cliff. The chicks are fed through a tube at the top of the cliff to minimize disturbance and to prevent the chicks from associating humans with food. When the chicks are ready to fledge, around 40 days of age, the cage door is opened and the chicks are left to learn to fly and hunt on their own. The hack attendant continues to be feed them until they are able to hunt for themselves. In most cases another group of birds is put into the hack box a few weeks after the first release. These mass hacks have proven effective in re-establishing peregrine falcon breeding pairs throughout North America.
Since the beginning of this program in 1992, a total of 170 young have been released in southern Alberta using the hack method. In 1996, another 40 to 50 young will be released, bringing the total birds released to well over 200 during the five year program.
As of 1995, we have had eight birds return from the release program. Two of these returning birds have nested successfully. A survey done in 1995 found 12 pairs of peregrines in southern Alberta, up from zero in 1973. Many of these birds were found at urban sites, but there were a number which have established territories on natural cliffs in rural areas.
Although this is a major achievement, it is only the first step in restoring peregrine falcon populations in southern Alberta. After the successful conclusion of the hack program which will end in 1996, we will have to nurture the small population and protect and conserve their nesting and feeding habitats to ensure the long term recovery and health of the peregrine falcon in Alberta.
In the coming years it is hoped that there will be more peregrines establishing breeding territories on Alberta's southern rivers. Knowledge of their nesting sites and protection of these birds is critical to their re-establishment in Alberta. If you see a peregrine falcon, please contact your local Natural Resources Service office an soon as possible.
Bruce Treichel is a Natural Resources Service status technician in Edmonton.
ORPHANED WILDLIFE? NOT!
By John Girvan
Every year Natural Resources Service district offices become clearing houses for orphaned wildlife. What can a responsible citizen, do? In my opinion, the best and hardest thing for people to do in these situations is absolutely nothing.
In most cases a young animal such as a deer fawn has not been orphaned but is left in a safe, sheltered spot by its mother. This allows the mother to feed upon the various grasses and herbs she needs to sustain herself and raise her young. These are most often available in open exposed areas where there is little cover and the young could be exposed to an attack by predators.
Many people although well-intentioned, encounter these young animals, immediately see those big brown pleading eyes and believe they have been abandoned. They pick them up. The very best advice I can give is to leave the animal alone. Do not touch it, pet it or pick it up! Observe if possible, but only from a distance. Anyone truly concerned about wildlife should leave the area immediately and report the incident to the nearest Natural Resources Service office and remember to provide good directions for wildlife officers to follow up if needed.
Leaving human scent on the animal may sign its death warrant. As hard as it is for some people to believe, these young animals have little or no scent that is detectable by predators. Most instances of predation occur when the predator accidently encounters the fawn or other animal while in the process of hunting other food. Predators are opportunistic feeders and may be trying to raise a family at the same time. What is worse for the fawn is that its own mother may abandon it because of human scent. If the fawn is abandoned by its mother, it will die slowly of starvation. So avoid being the cause of needless suffering that is preventable.
If the young animal that seems abandoned is a moose calf or other large ungulate, the loser may be you. There have been several documented cases recently where people, including one of our officers, have been injured by a cow moose protecting its young. Luckily no fatalities have been recorded to my knowledge.
So what now? An animal has been taken from the wild to someone's home. Lets go through a typical example of what happens to a fawn after it is "rescued." If an officer has to pick the animal up from a private home, he or she will likely spend several hours dealing with this one incident, instead of protecting the rest of the wild resource. The circumstances will be documented on an occurrence report by a staff member. The next step is to find a home for the animal and this may take several hours of telephone calls to locate a facility that is interested, such as a zoo, rehabilitation facility (for injured or orphaned animals temporary placement pending release) or to a game farm (if the animal is a deer, moose or elk).
If a facility is found that will accept the animal, it will be picked up by their staff or may be transported by the officer to their facility, which involves several more hours. As a last resort, if no placement can be found, the animal may have to be euthanized.
If the animal is taken in, the real work starts in feeding and caring for it. Very few facilities have all the resources, such as a staff veterinarian, special diets or shelter that may be needed to provide the care required by each animal. Regardless of the best care provided, some animals do not survive and it is not the fault of the caregiver.
If the animal survives, it will spend the rest of its life in captivity. Most animals, if removed from the care of their mothers at a young age, are incapable of fending for themselves and are therefore unsuitable for release back to the wild. In fact there have been several cases where these animals that are habituated to man have caused injury and property damage after being released back to the wild. In one instance a whitetail deer fawn, supposedly orphaned, was unlawfully raised by a farmer and released back to the wild. The young deer (a buck) showed up at a nearby farm and became quite aggressive towards the occupants when food and attention was not forthcoming. In this case it had to be destroyed after injuring the investigating officer.
This is only a small part of the story but an important message for readers. If just one more person becomes aware of the bleak prospects for "rescued animals," and keeps one more animal in the wild, you and I will be richer for it.
John Girvan is a Fish and Wildlife Officer in Leduc, Alberta
CASE IN POINT
By S.W.H. Webb
The following information was taken from court documents and as such is a matter of public record. The names of the witnesses and investigating officers have not been included.
The Sheep River Wildlife Sanctuary is a 130-square-kilometre parcel of land set aside in 1971 to provide a safe haven for some of the largest and most majestic of Alberta's Rocky Mountain big horns. Located west of Turner Valley in the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve in Wildlife Management 406, it has captured the interest of outdoor enthusiasts from bird watchers to sheep hunters. It was one of the latter who is the subject of this case in point.
On the morning of Oct. 13, 1992, John Newall left his home in Turner Valley and drove west to the Sheep River Sanctuary. An avid sheep hunter, he had made this trip several times since July that year watching for the population of large trophy class rams inhabiting the sanctuary. One in particular, a ram included in a management study and bearing ear tag number "99," was of particular interest to him.
The ram known as "99" was in its 14th year and would score at least 197 Boone and Crockett record book points, very close to the world's record at 208. Well known to sheep hunters, the animal had gained notoriety in an article published earlier in a sportsman's magazine. As Newall was licenced to hunt several species of wildlife, including trophy sheep, he carried his rifle encased in the vehicle. He knew this was the legal requirement for storing a rifle when passing through the sanctuary.
Having once driven westerly through the sanctuary watching for sheep, he reversed his course and once more headed east. Shortly after 11 a.m., he saw "99" lying near the fence line upslope on the north side of the road. As he drove by, he crossed a cattle guard and pulled his vehicle off of the road just west of a location known as "Bird Watcher's Point," a point almost 2.5 kilometres inside the sanctuary.
The ram got up and walked eastward and from its gait Newall believed it was either wounded or stiff from arthritis. He left his vehicle and walked upslope to where the animal had been laying and examined the bed for signs of blood. Seeing none, Newall returned to his car and drove it a short distance to Bird Watcher's Point. He then took out his camera and backtracked the animal's course, finding two other beds that the ram had used. Moving laterally across the slope he eventually arrived at a location directly above "99" which was once again lying down. Approaching the animal from above, he took one photo (later entered as evidence) before heading upslope 30 metres.
From this vantage point, Newall observed a vehicle moving east on the road below. The vehicle's occupants, also sheep hunters, likewise observed both him and the ram. Once again "99" left its bed and moved off over the ridge towards the east.
Newall began his descent, checking the last bed that "99" had left. Upon reaching the road he found a second eastbound vehicle, this one a red truck occupied by two sheep hunters stopped on the side of the road. The ram had by now also reached the road, crossed it and jumped the guard rail. Now heading toward the Sheep River, which was at that time the sanctuary's south boundary, "99" stopped to feed about 36 metres down the slope.
Newall approached the occupants of the truck and carried on a discussion with them for several minutes. While he was doing so, a Parks Service vehicle passed but did not stop nor did the hunters stop the vehicle. Before returning to his vehicle, Newall walked to the edge of the road and looked over. He saw the ram had moved approximately 18 metres further toward the river and was once again lying down. As he drove away, Newall noticed one of the occupants throwing something toward where the sheep was lying.
During the next few hours he drove back and forth between the east and west boundaries of the sanctuary at least six times, occasionally stopping to use a spotting scope to search for sheep and to look over the guard rail toward the Sheep River and the southern boundary. In doing so he passed the occupants of the red truck who were following a similar pattern at least three times.
On the final eastward trip, Newall stopped and spoke with the occupants of the truck again. This time he discussed with them tracks he believed he had seen on the south side of the Sheep River. Returning to his vehicle, he retrieved his cased firearm and walked south, following the tracks. In time he crossed the river and shortly thereafter shot and killed the ram known as "99." The shots were heard by the occupants of the first vehicle that Newall had seen much earlier that morning while he had been checking beds.
The interest taken in this particular ram by hunters for several years, and the volume of traffic through the sanctuary on the day that the ram was killed, naturally resulted in questions about the activities which led to its death. Ultimately those questions led to an investigation by Fish and Wildlife officers from High River and Elbow districts. On Oct. 19, 1992 officers in Calgary seized the trophy when it was produced for compulsory registration.
On Nov. 16, following interviews with the suspect and a number of witnesses who were in the vicinity of the Sheep River Sanctuary on the day in question, three charges were laid against John Newall.
The charges were under Sections 27(1), Hunt during Closed Season; and 54(1), Unlawful Possession of Wildlife under the Wildlife Act; and Section 30(1)(a) Unauthorized Hunting in a Wildlife Sanctuary under the General Wildlife Ministerial Regulations.
The resulting trial was heard in provincial court in Calgary before Commissioner McIlhargey. Considerable time was devoted to putting forward evidence on both sides and in examination of the facts. The Crown's position during the proceedings was that Newall drove the ram outside the safety of the sanctuary boundaries and killed it, or at the very least, his activities on that day within the boundaries constituted hunting by definition. The defence took the position that since there was no proof that the ram had actually been killed within the park boundaries, that it had not been hunted in violation of the law.
On Oct. 7, 1993, nearly one year from the day that the ram was killed, Commissioner McIlhargey reached a verdict on the three counts. He found Newall guilty in relation to the charge under Section 30(1)(a) of the Regulations and fined him $1,250, or in default of payment, imprisonment for 90 days. That offence carries a maximum fine of $2,000, and in default, six months. He also found Newall guilty under the two Wildlife Act charges but both were stayed. He did so because it was his opinion that the charge under the Regulation was most appropriate and those under the Act arose from the same incident and did not stand alone.
In reaching his decision, Commissioner McIlhargey dealt with several key issues involving the conditions which constitute "hunting" as defined in the Wildlife Act.
First he determined the offence in relation to 30(1)(a) to be one of "strict liability" using the Supreme Court decision in Sault St. Marie. It was therefore necessary that the Crown need only establish beyond reasonable doubt that the actions of the accused fell within the definition of "hunting" as defined in the Wildlife Act with no requirement to prove intent to commit an offence.
He was also satisfied that John Newall was "hunting" by the definition found in the Act and that he was specifically hunting the ram known as "99." He ruled that two activities undertaken by the accused met the conditions of hunting. First, he ruled that the numerous trips through the sanctuary, looking for sheep satisfied the definition of "hunt" as it relates to "search for" and fell outside the intent of Section 30(1)(a), which permits the "crossing" of a wildlife sanctuary with an encased firearm. Second he ruled that when Newall focused on the ram's movements south of the road and actually tracked it with a rifle to a point outside the boundary, he was hunting.
The fact that Newall had originally stated his concern for the health of the animal but did not convey this to the Parks officials that day, and his admitted interest in only large rams, also convinced the commissioner of Newall's intent to kill the ram if the opportunity arose.
Newall appealed his conviction; however, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the conviction.
Since the case was heard, the sanctuary boundary has been extended approximately one mile south of the Sheep River.
The ram known as "99" ranked 11th in the world and scored 198 2/8 Boone & Crockett points.
S.W.H. Webb is District Fish and Wildlife Officer, Calgary Metro.