Ottawa a deadly place for wildlife

Ottawa a deadly place for wildlife
Posted on October 24, 2013 | Donna DuBreuil | Written on October 22, 2013
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Letter type:
Op-Ed

Elk shot by police – public shocked and dismayed

There is no question that large species such as elk or moose that turn up in the city pose a challenge. However, there should not have been such a predictable outcome in the death of this elk. Predictable because of the negative history of how the City of Ottawa has dealt with large wild mammals in the past and the fact that it still hasn’t developed a better plan.  

A headline in the Ottawa Citizen 12 years ago, on June 4, 2001 “Shooting the Moose – Where was the tranquilizer gun?” included a half dozen highly critical letters from the public.  As one writer said “surely the City of Ottawa, existing in the middle of a greenbelt, could have been better prepared for such incidents”.  Then, on June 5, 2010, almost a decade later, a similar headline “Let Moose escape city rather than kill them” and another rash of angry letters.  And, now the shooting of this elk.

The Wildlife Strategy was supposed to change all this.  But, after three years of frustration, community groups like ours walked away because it was clear that the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources were united in preferring to maintain the status quo in how wildlife like beavers, coyotes, and large mammals are managed in this region, most often by bullets and traps.    

With respect to this recent incident, in response to the suggestion that the police be equipped and trained to use tranquilizers, Police Chief, Charles Bordeleau, is quoted as saying “I am not prepared to start training our officers on that when we have experts available to us”.  Well, where were these experts on Tuesday morning when the elk was first spotted? And, even more important, who are these experts?

As a member of the Wildlife Strategy Working Group, community organizations were told the City has a Large Wild Mammal Emergency Response protocol that includes a Wildlife Service Provider on contract who is trained and equipped and on call 24/7. It seemed obvious to us that this protocol should have been part of the broader Wildlife Strategy, yet no number of requests produced any information about who the Wildlife Service Provider is, their qualifications or even the terms of their contract.  

Why all the secrecy for something that is funded out of the public purse? And, why are Ottawa Police left to once again take the heat in attempting to defend the unfortunate outcome.

A Better Plan
It is well recognized that tranquilizing a large wild animal has many risks. Had that been the decision, it should have at least been done at the outset, not after the animal has been allowed to become agitated.

The much safer approach is to give the animal a way out via the route it has come or is following. These animals don’t arrive by helicopter.  They regularly use the many natural linkages such as hydro right-of-ways, transitway, Greenbelt and river corridors.
The elk was contained and docile. It was not posing any immediate threat. By allowing people to gather and having police press in closer with guns ready, not only does it understandably agitate the animal but it creates the expectation and time pressure for an action to be taken. Had the threat been coming from a human, bystanders would have been quickly dispersed by police.  Most people would readily understand that their presence was escalating things and sealing the fate of the animal.

Monitoring the situation for another few hours or until nightfall would have given this nocturnal animal the opportunity to escape via the route it had come, quite possibly from the river corridor.  Yes, it may have required closing a road or creating a short detour during this time but the public in Ottawa deal with this all the time for construction.

Jurisdictions, like Banff, manage regular incidents with elk in a way that doesn’t involve shooting them. It makes sense that Ottawa police, who will likely continue to be the first responders, form a small unit that is properly equipped and trained, perhaps by the experienced personnel in Banff.

In addition to the sad death of this elk, it’s unfair that Ottawa police should have to be the ones to issue apologies and be the target of on-going public criticism for killing wildlife when there is a choice. Given the abundance of natural habitat and linkages, incidents of large wild animals in Ottawa will continue to occur. Let’s make sure there is a plan in place – one that is transparent, understood and supported by the public.

Donna DuBreuil

About The Author

Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre's picture

Donna DuBreuil is the co-founder and president of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre. The Centre, founded in 1987, was established to support a better understanding and respect for wildlife in the face of rapid... More

Comments

Heather Featherstone

Couldn't agree more.
I watched this abominable event on television - initially assuming the elk would be tranquilized and removed. I couldn't believe it when I finally understood they simply killed this magnificent creature.

Anita Utas

I knew that the elk would be shot, the minute I heard it was in the city. The city of Ottawa does not care about coexistence with wildlife, at all. They take the easy way out- shoot, trap, gas, poison. There is no respect for wildlife here. Beaver continue to be lethally crushed to death in traps. There is no large mammal response team. This happened before with the moose, and it will happen again. We fought long and hard for a humane Wildlife Strategy and it turned into a farce. The city Mayor and City ouncilors did not take it seriously, and it turned into a farce. The only way to ensure that things change is to make sure that our mayor does not serve another term, and that almost all of our councilors are not voted back in.