Ottawa, Canada's capital, where wildlife needlessly die

Ottawa, Canada's capital, where wildlife needlessly die
Posted on October 22, 2013 | Barry Kent MacKay | Written on October 22, 2013
Letter type:

Earlier this month an elk was found wandering in a woody area in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. Elks were extirpated from Ontario by about the end of the 19th century. This animal apparently wandered in from a small herd maintained for hunters, a few hundred kilometers away. Although transected by many natural wildlife corridors and containing lots of good habitat, Ottawa is a deadly place for wildlife, a sort of Texas north. It’s as though the dogmatically anti-environmental, anti-wildlife policies of our current and lamented Ottawa-based federal government somehow leeches into municipal policy-making.

The people of Ottawa seem as good and decent as any, and when the elk was seen, there was no concern. According to eye-witness accounts, the big animal was well contained in a safe environment for three hours where it was ideally situated to be tranquilized, if the equipment and properly trained people were available. Sadly the animal started to show stress (do you blame him?) and the police were told by the usual crew of “wildlife managers” to shoot him.

The police are not wildlife experts and should not have to take the blame for Ottawa’s chronically lethal policies. Telling the police there was no choice is part of an overall mindset that, while not representative of the public, is all too representative of the city’s wildlife management policies overall.

On March 24, 1975, in, ironically, Ottawa, the federal government formally declared the beaver, “a symbol of sovereignty”. But Ottawa’s beavers are trapped and killed in large numbers, 150 killed last year by the city alone, plus others in adjoining areas. They don’t have to be. If they cause problems by blocking waterways there are excellent long-term solutions in the form of devices easily maintained that simply prevent the animals from blocking water flow. But the Ottawa mindset for dealing with wildlife that dares to intrude ranges from killing to killing. Their “Wildlife Strategy”, put in force earlier this year, was supposed to change all that, but what Cynthia Jacobson and Daniel Decker have referred to as “the iron triangle” prevailed.

Jacobson, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Decker, with Cornell University’s Department of Natural resources, wrote, “The relationship between bureaucrats, policy makers and interest groups has been referred to as an iron triangle…because it is thought to be an enduring network of like-minded interests impenetrable by outsiders…the iron triangle relationship between resource management agencies, traditional commodity users, and policy makers”. It prevents outsiders, the majority of tax payers, from the decision and policy-making processes pertaining to wildlife.

And as now retired professor of psychology, Bob Altemeyer, states of such folks: “They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide.” (see:

Few people have all those traits, but they do tend to describe too many of the bureaucrats I’ve met in wildlife management fields. The concern was that responses to wildlife issues in Ottawa were within the “iron triangle” of the City’s by-law department, the National Capital Commission (NCC) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). There may be some progressive and compassionate thinkers in all the groups, and maybe even in the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, which “…is responsible for ensuring that the unique interests and requirements of the City’s rural areas are taken into account in the decisions made by the City of Ottawa.” But if they’re there, they are not influential. The NCC reportedly tried to tranquilize the animal, but their failure to do so underscores the need for an effectively trained and equipped response team. The best response is usually to control the people, leave the “intruding” animal alone, and clear a corridor for its departure.

The irony is that the public is increasingly wary of even reporting such animals as deer, bear or other wildlife that, while not dangerous per se, can certainly be a risk to themselves or to property if they wonder into the city, which they inevitably do. Indeed, the City of Ottawa and the NCC should also have been wary of killing this animal because he was one of a few hundred wandering the Bancroft landscape, not too far away, and already suffering the lethal attention of hunters. Under any other circumstances the OMNR would have declared the animal part of an endangered elk population, descended from animals introduced to replace the ones wiped out a century plus ago, and needful of protection. But, being part of the iron triangle dictates pretzel-like arguments about why the few hundred elk somehow benefit greatly by being shot by hunters.

I am so grateful that in Toronto, near where I live, there are more progressive approaches to wildlife-human interactions, including many of those enacted by our very thoughtful, open and transparent Toronto Region Conservation Authority. It’s not perfect, debates and even rancor can occur, but in balance in the Greater Toronto Area don’t automatically reach for the traps and guns in our dealings with wild animals. Maybe it’s our distance from the sadly anti-environment federal government that makes the difference. I don’t live in Ottawa and I don’t know how to drag it into the 21st century, but I hope it happens soon.

About The Author

Barry Kent MacKay's picture

Barry Kent MacKay is the Canadian representative of Born Free USA, as well as a director of Animal Alliance of Canada, Zoocheck, Species Survival Network, an experienced naturalist, conservationist and animal... More


Paul Harris

The very idea that there are private herds of wildlife - ANYWHERE - that exist for the sole purpose of being shot by Neanderthal hunters seeking the thrill of the kill is beyond comprehension. That the nation's capital sees no problem with shooting whatever displeases it (consider the Senate the next time you're out for target practice, folks) says a great deal about the moral turpitude of government at all levels.

This author is quite right that under any other circumstance, OMNR would be leaping to the rescue of a newly returned species rather than simply acceding to yet another mindless killing. [Despite its long history of blunders, OMNR is not actually trying to wipe out wildlife and would certainly wish to grant a former resident an opportunity to re-establish itself.]

It is very disappointing to see that Ottawa (the city) is heartless, thoughtless, and mean-spirited. I think the author is thinking wishfully about dragging Ottawa into the 21st century - its managers seem to have missed the evolutionary boat somewhere along the way and the 21st century would be an extraordinary leap for them.

Lawrence Pinsky

Excellent piece, Barry. I'm not very far from Ottawa.
This is very disappointing.

Julie Chan

Killing wildlife is not an appropriate way of wildlife management when there are so many more humane and better ways of relocating them. Wildlife is what makes our country unique, each and every animal deserves to be protected, and allowed to live. Unless they are dangerous or diseased, killing them should not even be an option for managing wildlife. It really shows the lack of knowledge, and anti-environmental thinking. It is backward thinking and frankly barbaric to be managing wildlife in that manner. I am sad to see this as Canada is known and prided for their wildlife, and needlessly killing beavers, elks just because they have taken residence near humans is unacceptable. This has to change as it's shameful when I read such news. We should be able to do better than that. Animals are beautiful, majestic beings and we should make all the effort to learn how we can co-habit together and not just kill them off when they are in sight.

Doris Potter

It is appalling to read that this elk was part of a herd kept for hunters. Last week I saw a Bobwhite quail running down a residential street near Montreal which was also likely an escapee from an enclosure where they are kept for hunting. It will not survive the winter.

This is insane! We have private collections of animals for people to shoot and private collections of exotic animals for people to exhibit. Animals continuously suffer for our various perverted whims and pleasures.

Where are the laws to prevent this kind of abuse?

Eva Kaufman

Animals shouldn't die. They were here first.

Paula Hayes

A travesty - what was the elk going to up all the politicians? get real and make proper allowances for lost wildlife!

Janice E Bailey

I completely agree with Paul Harris' comments. I'm shocked that in this so-called enlightened society anyone would sanction the useless killing of a beautiful animal. I know I'm a bleeding heart liberal...and proud of it.

For the animals...domestic and wild.

Marion Bedford

I was very saddened and disappointed at the way the beautiful and splendid elk was murdered here in Ottawa.

Perhaps if the First Nations people from the Friendship Centre had been contacted as soon as the elk was discovered, things would have ended differently.

As it was, the Friendship Centre was able to use some of the meat from the deceased elk, but not all as he was not treated properly after death to make his sacrifice usable to the people.

I find the police in Ottawa rather too eager to shoot first and ask questions later. This is a sad state of affairs.

I hope this terrible mistake which was thought wrong by many in Ottawa will lead to a more enlightened approach to wildlife in the city of Ottawa in the future.


Ottawa, you should be ashamed at the way this was handled. And to think our capital city has not progressed. What a sick and sad ironly

Mar Chase

This situation is appalling. Haven't we seen enough of this kind of animal-wandering-where-it-shouldn't to have an intelligent way of dealing with it? This isn't the first time and it won't be the last time. How hard can it be to have a professional train the police and to call on wildlife personnel to help resolve such a situation without it resulting in the animal being killed. This animal posed no imminent threat to humans and was killed unnecessarily.
Ottawa is the capital of Canada and should be leading the way for the rest of the country. You made yourself, and Canada, look ignorant and stupid.

Nora Davidson

The policy makers who allow this kind of killing should relinquish all decision-making privileges, until sane humane and popular opinion can prevail.