BAN DANGEROUS POISONS
It's time to ban the use of poisons in Canada.
In Canada, sodium cyanide was recently discontinued as a poison to kill wildlife, but long-outdated policies continue to allow the use of two reckless and violent poisons to kill wolves, coyotes, bears and other species.
They are strychnine and Compound 1080, and they are inhumane, with symptoms being extremely painful and prolonged before death. Indiscriminate killers, they have claimed the lives of people and pets in addition to wildlife.
Rodenticidal strychnine recently underwent re-evaluation as an allowable pesticide in Canada through the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), which is a sector of Health Canada. PMRA decided to discontinue the use of rodenticidal strychnine in Canada, noting that the risks to non-target species was too high and that safer alternatives exist to help farmers with rodents.
Predacidal strychnine is still registered for use in Canada to kill coyotes, wolves and black bears, as well as a separate permit to kill skunks. These uses of strychnine are currently undergoing their 15-year cyclical Re-Evaluation by PMRA. A decision is expected in February 2024.
“According to the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC 2003), a killing method is humane if it causes rapid (immediate) unconsciousness and subsequent death without pain or distress. Death by strychnine ingestion is inhumane, as it causes frequent periods of tetanic seizures, occasional cessation of breathing, hyperthermia, extreme suffering, and death from exhaustion or asphyxiation, which typically occurs within 1–2 hours of the onset of clinical signs (Khan 2010). However, death can take up to 24 hours or longer if the dose is low (Eason & Wickstrom 2001).
The use of strychnine to kill wolves is in contravention of CCAC guidelines (CCAC 2003), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2013), the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (2014), and the American Society of Mammalogists (Sikes et al. 2011)”.
OUR WORK TO END POISON USE IN CANADA
In 2020, we worked with Animal Justice, Animal Alliance and other ally organizations to formally request that PMRA conduct a Special Review -- a complete evaluation ahead of the 15-year cyclical Re-Evaluation, in light of recent condemnation from the scientific community and the Alberta government’s records which show a staggering number of non-target deaths recorded in a single area and rampant non-compliance to use rules. Indeed, more non-target wildlife died than the number of caribou in the herd the government is supposedly trying to protect by poisoning wolves. Government of Alberta staff regularly fail to check bait sites within the mandated timeframe and have reported that hundreds of strychnine baits are eaten without any carcasses being collected, evidencing the spread of this poison far beyond bait sites.
Public input is necessary to show that Canadians won’t stand for toxins that torture wildlife, decrease biodiversity, and pose a serious threat to the safety of people and pets.
The federal government declined our request for the Special Review in 2021, but chose to accelerate and consolidate the regular processes to re-evaluate these poisons every 15 years.
As long as these products remain available in Canada these poisons will continue to kill wild and domestic animals across the country, such as these recent strychnine deaths in British Columbia, where strychnine has been banned at the provincial level for years.
1. These chemicals are a cruel method of killing wildlife.Compound 1080, strychnine and sodium cyanide are each widely acknowledged as an inhumane method of killing animals due to the intensity and duration of the suffering they cause. Animals that ingest Compound 1080 or strychnine can suffer excruciating pain for several hours; sometimes even days with 1080, before finally losing consciousness. Symptoms can include but are not limited to severe and prolonged convulsions, vomiting, unusual vocalizations, excessive salivation, muscular weakness and respiratory distress. Poisoned animals can become injured or suffer tissue trauma if they come in contact with rigid objects during their uncontrollable muscle spasms. Poisoned 1080 victims will typically die from respiratory or nervous system failure or from a cardiac attack. Strychnine and Sodium Cyanide also cause similar violent symptoms and convulsions to victims and lead to prolonged suffering prior to death.
2. These poisons are a threat to species at risk and biodiversity.Poison baits are often the subject of vigorous debate over the impact they have on non-target animals, including endangered species, domestic animals and companion animals. The residual poison left in the tissues of victims is toxic to scavengers as well. These toxins can virtually render a landscape sterile, effecting everything sharing a food chain. 11 different non-target species have been killed by strychnine in Alberta’s Little Smoky wolf kill program; for a minimum of 243 non-target deaths 2005-2017. Despite all three poisons being equally inhumane, wildlife managers often attempt to persuade the public that Compound 1080 is a more selective poison that the others, specifically targeting wolves and coyotes or any animal in the dog family – Canidae –because they metabolize the toxin differently. Compound 1080 was originally believed to be specific to canids, because canids are up to ten times more susceptible to the poison compared to most other mammals, however in reality it is highly toxic to all mammals and birds, and has varying potential toxicity levels on fish and invertebrates. While 1080 is mainly used to target rodents and wild canids, many other animals have been unintentionally killed by it, including endangered species, livestock and pets. For this reason, we will focus on how indiscriminate a killer Compound 1080 actually is. Because of its non-selectivity (PMRA 2014), Compound 1080 has killed humans, pets, eagles, badgers, bobcats, raccoons, bears, wolves, coyotes and various other wildlife species (Defenders 1982). Additionally, victims vomit after ingesting this slow-acting poison, thereby spreading it across the landscape until they are killed (Randall 1981). Veterinarians of the Canadian Cooperative of Wildlife Health (CCWHC), (1999) classified 1080 as “moderately selective for canids”. Before discontinuing use of Compound 1080 in the late 1990’s, a BC government report found that 20-28% of wolf baits containing the poison were taken by non-target species. Similarly in the US, a federal predator control supervisor found the poison in the carcasses of golden eagles, bobcats, black bears, pine martens, badgers, dogs and Canada Jays. The poison is believed to be at least partly responsible for the decline of several species at risk in North America, including the Kit fox, California Condor and Black-footed ferrets in the US. Environment Canada has reported that the poison is at least partly responsible for a drastic 71% decline of a breeding colony of Burrowing Owls over a 2-year period. This is of great concern not only for Burrowing Owls but other species at risk in Alberta and Saskatchewan where Compound 1080 and other poisons are permitted. Vulnerable scavengers include Swift fox, American badger, Grizzly bear and Short-eared owl, among others.
3. These poisons are unnecessary and ineffective. Better alternatives exist.Only a small percentage of livestock deaths are caused by wild predators. Pre-emptive and/or indiscriminate wolf and coyote kill programs (whether through poisoning, traps or aerial gunning) can result in higher wolf and coyote numbers and greater livestock depredation because it disrupts their natural behaviours and pack dynamics. Humane alternatives exist that are much more effective at preventing and reducing livestock depredation. See Wolf Awareness Ranchers Guide to Coexistence Among People, Livestock and Wolves 2nd Ed. As the ends do not justify the means, the use of poison in a conservation campaign aimed at caribou recovery is hypocritical and ludicrous. Not only are the methods of death inhumane to all species that encounter the poison, but there is no evidence to indicate that the province’s wolf kill program has significantly increased caribou populations, despite killing more than 800 wolves since 2005.
4. They pose a serious threat to the health and safety of people and pets.One teaspoon of Compound 1080 can kill 30-100 people. There is no antidote. Labelled as a Class 1a poison (the most toxic category) by the World Health Organization (WHO) and considered a super poison by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Compound 1080 is a colourless, odourless salt that is highly soluble in water. The FBI has shown concern that all three of these highly toxic pesticides are considered as likely to be used by terrorists, and indeed, all of them have been.* While intended for wildlife deemed a ‘nuisance’, Compound 1080 has resulted in accidental human deaths in the U.S. The federal government has assigned the responsibility of administering and monitoring Compound 1080 to provincial governments which have delegated it to the municipal/local level. Our research suggests that it is not regulated well enough in Canada to ensure the public’s safety or the protection of wild and domesticated animals that are not the intended targets. Despite restrictions on its use, strychnine poisoning in dogs continues to be a prevalent concern in western Canada, with at least 93 cases of strychnine poisoning in dogs in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba between 1998 and 2013, read the science report here. Read this heartfelt letter by a couple who lost Dulce, their four-legged companion, to Strychnine near Cremona, Alberta. Dulce was not the only dog that fell victim to strychnine in the area, there were three additional dog deaths that season. Dulce’s loss was completely unexpected and devastating, with his life ending in front of the couple’s grandchildren. We are using their experience to increase awareness and stop the use of these dreadful poisons. A young boy recently lost his companion dog and nearly his own life to a Sodium Cyanide cartridge, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove cyanide devices and announce that it is ending its use of the M-44 mechanisms in Idaho indefinitely.
5. These toxins have been banned in several jurisdictions. It is time for Canada to follow suit.Compound 1080, often considered to be the least harmful of these three predacides, has been banned in Brazil, Belize, Cuba, Slovenia, Thailand, China, and several US states including California, Washington State and Oregon. Strychnine was banned from the USA for killing predators and skunks in the early 1970’s, and then banned for above ground use in 1988. It was banned by the European Union in 2006.
The Silent Howl
WHERE POISONS ARE BEING USED IN CANADA TO KILL WOLVES AND COYOTES
These poisons are showing up in places where they are not permitted, which reinforces concerns surrounding misuse of these highly dangerous toxins as long as they are available in the country. Both poisons have been illegally used in British Columbia to target domestic dogs in public areas. A Saskatchewan farmer recently admitted that he murdered his wife using strychnine in 2020.
Companies and agencies are required to apply to register products with Health Canada’s Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency when they want to include poison in their products. Health Canada grants permits for use of these products.
Currently, only Alberta has permits to use strychnine and Compound 1080, but these poisons have been used in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the past.
Find out if these poisons have been used near you. Ask your local government representatives and look at the records from 2010-2016 on this map: