The bloody lesson of the Whistler sled dog slaughter

British Columbia's premier has taken a strong line on this dog cull. But what about the routine horrors of trophy hunting in BC

By Chris Genovali, Special to The Guardian

to read this on the Guardian’s website click here Guardian.co.uk

The widespread outrage over the execution-style murders of 100 sled dogs in Whistler, British Columbia is not only warranted, it is an important sign that a significant number of people both in Canada and worldwide are still in touch with a clear sense of right and wrong in this disconnected era of moral relativity. As a lifelong dog-lover, I was particularly sickened to hear of this twisted and terrible event; I was also struck by the irony of Premier Gordon Campbell’s response…….

“The tragic and disturbing details that have emerged around how these dogs were inhumanely treated are not acceptable to British Columbians or to their government. No creature should ever have to suffer in the manner that has been reported, and we want to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again in our province.”

Appropriate and admirable comments by the premier, no doubt. But upon closer examination, one cannot escape contrasting Campbell’s justifiable concern for the murdered Whistler sled dogs and his demonstrable lack of concern for all the wild “creatures” in British Columbia. This is especially true for large carnivores such as grizzlies, wolves, black bears and cougars, which are relentlessly subjected to intense suffering and inhumane treatment via trophy hunting throughout the province, year after year, after year.

For instance, coastal grizzly bears are shot during the fall hunt – essentially, ambush-style, often from blinds overlooking feeding sites where these animals are focused on readying themselves for winter by intently fishing for salmon. Alternatively, they are killed during the spring hunt on estuaries where the bears are recovering from winter and grazing on protein-rich plant foods.

With its reliance on technology, the sport hunting of coastal grizzlies often resembles some sort of high-tech war effort and has been characterised by wildlife scientists as “a search and destroy mission”. And the trophy-hunting lobby calls it “fair chase”.

Wolves are killed for purposes of recreational hunting and lethal predator control by being shot (sometimes from helicopters), trapped and strangled in snares. Infrequent requirements for checking traps and snares results in the prolonged suffering of captured animals. Although some cougars are killed opportunistically by hunters seeking other species such as deer, most are killed with the use of hounds that trail, chase and tree cougars, with “sportsmen” subsequently shooting the big cats at close range. Black bears are also subjected to hound hunting, and like grizzlies, cougars and wolves, they are targets of bow hunting, as well.

None of this accounts for the pain and agony of wounded and injured animals that do not die immediately from the errant gun and archery shots of trophy hunters.

The uncomfortable truth is that when it comes to the management of big wildlife in BC, it is simply a bloodbath. Codified by provincial policy, top predators are targeted for termination to satisfy the recreational and entertainment needs of both resident and non-resident large carnivore killers. There are very few refuge zones for large carnivores where hunting is not allowed. Most parks and protected areas in the province permit the trophy hunting of these animals. Annually, some 250 cougars, 300 grizzlies, 800 wolves and 1,000 plus black bears are shot, trapped and otherwise dispatched by sport hunters. So-called control kills by the province, as well as illegal kills by poachers, are additive mortality to the aforementioned trophy hunting statistics for these species.

So, back to the premier. Upon taking office in 2001, Premier-elect Campbell promised and delivered on a commitment to overturn the shortlived moratorium on grizzly bear hunting during the first 90 days of his Liberal government, without any ecological, economic or ethical justification. Despite widespread support for the grizzly hunt moratorium from the independent scientific community, the tourism industry, conservation organisations, First Nations and the general public, Campbell chose to acquiesce to an extremist minority of sport hunters who favour killing grizzlies for fun and profit.

The question now arises: does his expression of concern over the Whistler sled dog massacre signal that his party’s views on animal suffering, whether wild or domestic in nature, have evolved since coming to power a decade ago? One can only hope.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.