wildlife management principles
now be based on disease control?
one day higher government officials would recognise that the value of
wildlife to Canadians far surpasses that of many other social interests.
This fact has already been shown in studies but has never been readily
accepted. It is difficult to understand that while the percentage of consumptive
users of wildlife, such as hunters and trappers, is diminishing somewhat,
the percentage of non-consumptive users is growing even more rapidly.
Ever run across anyone with no opinion on wildlife?
that campaign managers and political advisors would eventually remove
their heads from the sand and recognise that taking a position in support
of wildlife must be a key objective in seeking societal approval. Or,
he mused, they would become extirpated, as would the losing candidates
they backed in any election.
it would only be a matter of time before the fabricators of political
decisions would be weeded out in this fashion, while the mountain of issues
surrounding fish and wildlife grew steadily. So when would it be time
for the world in general and politicians in particular to step up to the
plate? He could come to only one conclusion. It was evident that when
a wildlife crisis of insurmountable proportions loomed, that would be
the benefits of having foreseen many threats to our wildlife, and we have
done something about it. These threats are numerous. Early in Alberta's
history the first threat was over-exploitation, characterised by uncontrolled
hunting, trapping and trafficking. In order to promote the conservation
of wildlife populations, these activities have been addressed in law for
document the rewards reaped by these efforts. One of the most notable
was the return of elk, believed to be extinct in Alberta by about 1912.
This animal is now numerous in many parts of the province, with a population
estimate of 26,000. Early in the twentieth century, pronghorn antelope
were believed at one point to number only 13,000 on the continent. Now
they number about one million. Although many would hardly believe it today,
beaver populations in Alberta were nearly decimated at times as well.
They are now regular nuisances in many parts of Alberta. There are many
similar success stories.
of wildlife habitat? This has been altered dramatically, primarily by
the incursions of agricultural and industrial development, to the detriment
of many species in local areas. Pollution can still be a significant factor
but this has been curbed to a degree by regulation. Meanwhile, there are
many programs to conserve and improve these habitats. Approvals for new
industrial developments are increasingly tied to minimising the impact
to ecosystems in general. Are these measures enough? I do not know.
to protect wildlife in the long term, it is necessary to ward off threats
that have not yet materialised, including the introduction of wildlife
diseases, foreign parasites and genetic contamination. The introduction
of harmful exotic species into the province that could infest our ecosystems
has also been deterred. How, you ask? By regulating the importation and
possession of live wildlife and controlled animal species. Each application
to import a live animal of any of these species is reviewed independently
and health certificates are required. The purpose of the importation,
along with the authority to possess the animals, is considered. An acceptable
purpose for an import permit might be to import a specimen to an existing
permit-holder's premises, such as a recognised zoo or research facility.
An unacceptable purpose would be to merely possess an animal as a pet.
amid fears of meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis), the importation
of live animals of the deer family into Alberta were banned by the establishment
of a moratorium against the importation of ungulates.
worm lives largely in white-tailed deer, the normal host for this parasite,
and is prevalent in deer on the eastern side of the continent. Intermediate
stages of its life cycle involve snails or slugs. The bodies of white-tailed
deer have adapted to the parasites so they do very little damage to a
host of that species. This was not necessarily the case if the worm was
picked up by other species, such as mule deer, moose, caribou and sometimes
elk, none of which have been regular hosts. P. tenuis tends to travel
in more irregular ways through hosts of these species, leading to severe
damage to nerve or brain tissues, which explains why P. tenuis is referred
to as "brainworm" An infested host of these other species can
exhibit behaviour typical of nerve and brain damage, such as losing control
of movement, running in circles and crashing into objects in its path.
These behaviours and paralysis are commonly be followed by death.
are a host of muscle worms and liver flukes... and those may yet be another
have involved genetic contamination, where interbreeding - hybridisation
- between introduced specimens and native wildlife can occur. Serious
efforts have been undertaken to prevent the mixing of European red deer
and elk on game animal production farms in Alberta for this reason. These
animals can freely interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
We have all
known of the disastrous results of tuberculosis outbreaks in farmed animals,
both bovines and ungulates. Suffice to say that TB monitoring is routine
and this is a federally controlled and reportable disease. The Canadian
Food Inspection Agency is responsible for the control of such reportable
diseases. In the aftermath of TB outbreaks, they have since monitored
and controlled the transport of live farmed cervids in Canada.
of concerns noted in this article comprise only a few from a veritable
shopping list of potential threats to free ranging wildlife. Notwithstanding
this, perhaps the efforts extended so far have been highly successful,
as we have not had an outbreak of brainworm or any verified cases of TB
in wild animals (except bison). TB outbreaks in captive animals have so
far been brought under control. Nor have we subjected our wildlife to
genetic contamination, or at least to any that has had any noticeable
effect. Have introduced parasites had noticeable effect to date? Nothing
to report so far. But then there are those undesirable alien species.
There are not too many around (disregarding European starlings and house
sparrows, of course). Oops! Wild boar anyone?
does an actual crisis loom?
In short, the answer is now. In March of 2002, Alberta became another
jurisdiction where the presence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been
confirmed, in this case, in farmed elk. By the time you read this, we
should know more of the effect of this discovery. This insidious disease
is incredibly scary, primarily because no one knows nearly enough about
it. If it becomes established in wild deer or elk, evidence from elsewhere
shows that it cannot be controlled. We are familiar with the two cases
confirmed in wild mule deer in Saskatchewan, in addition to the huge outbreak
in captive deer and elk on farms in that province. Culling of captive
deer and elk in Saskatchewan has now resulted in the destruction of around
7,500 in attempts to stem the outbreak.
I just read
that Wisconsin has detected three cases in wild white-tailed deer taken
by hunters, the first reported cases in free-ranging deer or elk east
of the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
has reported finding CWD in a confined white-tailed deer herd in northwest
Nebraska, with close to half the deer from inside the facility testing
positive. Free-ranging deer sampled within a 10-mile radius are testing
CWD positive at a rate of from 3.4 per cent to 6.8 per cent. This report
from Nebraska contains a viewpoint that white-tailed deer may spread this
disease faster than mule deer or elk, something I have not heard before.
It is believed that whitetails outside the facility in question were infected
through nose-to-nose contact with captive deer through the fence. Nebraska
now fears the state's entire white-tailed deer herd is at risk of being
of Colorado reports that 19 other states have been the recipients of animals
from CWD-positive herds in captivity in Colorado. Their data indicates
that 262 Colorado animals have been traced from these infected herds as
having been transferred to those other states.
from Colorado and Wyoming where CWD has been most prevalent indicates
that this disease cannot practically be removed from wild populations
of deer and elk. Most frightening is that experiments have proven that
facilities where outbreaks have occurred continue to harbour this disease.
One facility that held CWD positive animals had all the animals removed
and was thoroughly disinfected, including scrubbing corrals and tilling
and spraying the soil with disinfectant, but healthy animals later placed
in it still became CWD-positive. Now just what do you do about that state
of websites indicates that all states and provinces where CWD has occurred
are undertaking a continuation of plans for more testing (culling) of
wild animals with the objective of limiting CWD outbreaks. Alberta did
this in the spring of 2001 near the Saskatchewan border, as did Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan will continue to cull this spring as well. From the latest
discovery of CWD now in Alberta, we can expect that we will now follow
a road of managing this disease as best we can. We may have lost the luxury
of managing deer and elk for any other purpose.
So now to
the question of opening the door to creating, as the industry would call
them, Cervid Harvesting Preserves. Who will step up to the plate in this,
the ninth inning for Alberta?
is a member of the Conservation Officers Association of Alberta in Edmonton