Marineland confirms walrus death, two deer killed in opening day stampede

Marineland has confirmed the death of walrus Apollo and said the 18-year-old animal had a heart attack.

Cillian O’ writer


Published Wednesday, May 22, 2019 12:33PM EDT 

Controversial Canadian waterpark Marineland has announced the death of one of its walruses, days after “demonstrators” were blamed for causing a stampede that led to the deaths of two deer.

The tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, Ont. announced Apollo’s death on Tuesday, confirming the 18-year-old animal died of a heart attack in late April.

“Even with the immediate intervention of multiple medical marine mammal experts, we are sad to report that Apollo passed away,” a Marineworld release said.

“While the loss of Apollo is truly devastating for all of us who knew him, we are comforted in knowing he passed very quickly and without obvious pain.”

The park is now keeping a close eye on its last remaining walrus, Smooshi, which has been subject to “extensive additional checkups to confirm the status of her health.”

“Our team is providing her with additional enrichment and care while plans for her future at the park are finalized,” the park said.

“Smooshi continues to show her love and adoration for her favourite marine mammal trainers and appeared to be in good spirits when taking to the stage at Marineland’s educational presentation on Saturday’s opening day.”

Apollo is the fourth walrus to die at Marineland in two years.

Zeus died of natural causes on Boxing Day last year. Another walrus, Buttercup, died in the winter of 2017/18.

Female walrus Sonja died suddenly in May 2017 from a rare abdominal aneurysm, the park said.

Two deer killed in stampede

Meanwhile, Marineland said it had its busiest opening day in a decade, despite protests from animal rights groups.

The park claims two men deliberately started a deer stampede Saturday, resulting in the deaths of two of the animals.

“These individuals laughed in the face of staff as they tried to get them to stop,” a Marineland statement said.

“They refused all instruction by staff and resisted efforts to remove them from the Deer Park. We are all upset by this terrible act against innocent animals.

“In order to protect our animals, we are closing the Deer Park to make modifications to prevent this type of incident from ever happening again.”

Ontario SPCA and Humane Society has called for an overhaul to provincial animal welfare legislation, which it says is failing animals kept in captivity for commercial gain.

“The Ontario SPCA and Humane Society has formed a task force dedicated to developing ‎new provincial animal welfare legislation that reflects the need for both greater protection and social justice for animals,” the charity said in a statement.

“The task force is reviewing the need for animals to be recognized under law as sentient beings to acknowledge their ability to feel, to have subjective experiences and to be treated accordingly, rather than as property.”

Zebras, lions, kangaroos among exotic animals seized at Quebec zoo

Owner of St-Édouard Zoo facing charges of neglect and cruelty to animals

Sophie Gaillard, animal advocacy director with the Montreal SPCA, speaks to reporters after the arrest of the owner of the Zoo St-Édouard, in central Quebec, on Tuesday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A zoo owner in central Quebec is facing criminal charges after roughly 100 animals were seized at a facility in Saint-Édouard-de-Maskinongé.

Normand Trahan was arrested Tuesday morning by SPCA investigators, with the assistance of provincial police, on charges of animal neglect and cruelty.

If found guilty, Trahan could face up to five years in prison and a lifetime ban on owning an animal.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time in Canada that a zoo owner is facing criminal animal cruelty charges,” said Sophie Gaillard, animal advocacy director with the Montreal SPCA.

It is also the first time in Quebec that animal cruelty charges have been laid by way of indictment under the federal Criminal Code, Gaillard said, which opens the door to harsher penalties than under provincial laws.

Several primates are among the animals that will be transferred to animal sanctuaries across North America. (Submitted by Humane Society International/Canada)

“We’re really pleased that this file is being taken seriously by the prosecutors involved,” she said at a news conference at the zoo on Tuesday.

The animals found at the St-Édouard Zoo, about 120 kilometres north of Montreal, include lions, tigers, zebras, camels, kangaroos and bears.

Flags raised in 2018

The SPCA said it started investigating after a visitor called them in 2018.

“We received a complaint from the public and conducted a thorough investigation that led us to discover other pieces of evidence,” said Gaillard.

Two alpacas were seized in October 2018, following an initial inspection the previous August. Four animal carcasses, including those of two tigers, were also found, as well as the bodies of two birds.

Before 2015, the zoo only featured nordic animals like wolves. (Submitted by HSI/Canada)

Humane Society International (HSI), a non-profit organization, is tasked with caring for the remaining animals and finding them new homes.

SPCA and HSI employees have spent the day going around the zoo to take inventory of the living conditions.

“Some animals didn’t have access to water and proper food,” said Ewa Demianowicz, senior campaign manager with HSI/Canada.

“Some animals needed veterinary care, so these are not conditions that we usually see in zoos,” said Demianowicz.

So far, none of the animals were found to be in “imminent danger,” but it will take weeks to transfer them to other sanctuaries in the HSI network, in Canada and in the United States.

Quebec zoo owner Normand Trahan, pictured in 2017, could face up to five years in prison on charges of animal cruelty and neglect. (Josée Ducharme/Radio-Canada)

“This is without a doubt the most complex animal rescue we’ve undertaken in Canada,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI/Canada.

The costs of the operation are partially being covered by the Eric S. Margolis Family Foundation, which supports wildlife advocacy organizations.

Multiple infractions

The St-Édouard Zoo had been fined in the past for breaching Quebec’s wildlife protection laws.

The Ministry of Wildlife, which is responsible for issuing permits to zoos, could not confirm at this time whether Trahan had the proper permits to run an exotic zoo.

Quebec’s business registry lists the zoo as a breeding facility for livestock and poultry.

HSI/Canada said so far, the animals found at the zoo were not in “imminent danger.” (Submitted by HSI/Canada)

According to Radio-Canada, it had been for sale for several years because Trahan wanted to retire.

The 69-year-old appeared at the Trois-Rivières courthouse Tuesday afternoon and was released on a promise to appear June 21.

His lawyer, Michel Lebrun, said Trahan has always collaborated with officials and was planning to open the zoo this week.

“As far as I know, he has had the proper permits with the Ministry of Wildlife and the MAPAQ [Quebec’s food and agriculture inspection agency] for the past 30 years,” said Lebrun.

Trahan took over the property in 1989 when it was known as the Centre d’Observation de la Faune.

According to the zoo’s website, visitors can see up to 100 species of exotic animals, including lions, tigers, baboons and leopards.

Grey whales free after beaching in Delta, B.C.’s, Boundary Bay

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver Aquarium helped get animals free

A photo from the scene on Friday shows several people in the water of Boundary Bay, B.C., near the animals. (David Houston/Facebook)


It just might be the happiest whale tale since Free Willy: a pair of grey whales stranded on the low-tide mudflats of Boundary Bay in B.C.’s Lower Mainland have escaped.

A rescue effort sprang into action Friday afternoon after the two whales — a mother and a calf — became beached near Centennial Park in Boundary Bay in Delta about a 40 minute drive south of Vancouver.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada led the effort with refloatation devices — large, inflatable airbags to lift the animals up — and a vessel. The Vancouver Aquarium was also on scene to handle any medical setbacks the animals may have suffered.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Martin Haulena, the Vancouver Aquarium’s head veterinarian. “A very, very good ending.”

Haulena said the animals got stuck at approximately 2 p.m. PT. They were freed by about 6:30 p.m.

Fortunately for them, the tide was coming in to help their escape. A cheer rose from about 100 assembled onlookers as the whales began to move freely, flapping their fins.

Watch as the whales begin to right themselves in the rising tide:

CBC News Vancouver at 6
Whales get free in Delta, B.C.

00:00 00:34

After being stranded for much of Friday afternoon, a grey whale and her calf start to right themselves in the rising tide of Boundary Bay. 0:34

Dangerous position

Haulena said Boundary Bay — a wide, shallow bay straddling the Canada-U.S. border — is a place where grey whales could easily get stranded.

He described the animals as bottom feeders: they skim along the ocean floor filtering organisms from the sandy bottom through their mouths. He thinks they were likely foraging when the tide went out and became stuck.

As the tide rolled in the whales began to flap their fins and get free. (CBC)

Once out of the water, he continued, their large bodies put them in danger.

“They were never designed to bear weight,” he explained. “That can compress their lungs. They can’t breathe right. Their circulation gets very altered … it’s a very big deal potentially.”

He added that the whales are not out of the woods yet.

If they were injured too severely by their ordeal, they may still die.

Rash of beachings

Friday’s dramatic scene is one that has been happening all over the west coast of North America this year as an unusual number of grey whales have become stranded and died on their migration from their southern calving waters in Mexico to their northern feeding waters.

Some researchers are pointing to a lack of food as the cause.

Haulena said beachings tend to happen cyclically, with some years being worse than others, but agreed the population may be exhausting its food sources.

Marineland, Vancouver Aquarium shipping beluga whales out of the country

Two major Canadian tourist attractions are sending beluga whales outside the country as a new federal law looms that would ban exports on marine mammals, The Canadian Press has learned.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it has approved permits for Marineland to move two belugas from the Niagara Falls, Ont., facility to Oceanografic in Valencia, Spain. The Vancouver Aquarium says it owns the two marine mammals that are being cared for by Marineland, and operates the Spanish park where they’re being transferred.

“These two aquarium-born belugas will receive exceptional care at Oceanografic, where they will join a small social grouping of whales already in care there,” Vancouver Aquarium said in a statement, adding that the deal would not cost the Spanish facility any money.

Marineland has also applied to move five more belugas to the United States, but neither Fisheries nor Marineland would divulge where in the U.S. they’re headed if the permits are approved.

“Our Marine Mammal Welfare Committee, which includes independent, accredited experts, recently recommended that Marineland Canada re-home some of our beluga whales to accommodate belugas we expect to be born in 2019 and 2020,” Marineland said in a statement.

“Relocations to the United States are being undertaken to ensure that the best care possible is provided for our beluga whales.”

Neither facility would identify which belugas were being moved, nor how long the two facilities had this arrangement.

The moves come as a new bill banning whale and dolphin captivity is nearing law — its third reading in the House of Commons is set for debate next week.

“Our government agrees that the capture of cetaceans for the sole purpose of being kept for public display should be ended,” said Jocelyn Lubczuk, a spokeswoman for Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

The bill bans imports and exports of the mammals with exceptions only for scientific research or “if it is in the best interest” of the animal, with discretion left up to the minister, thereby clamping down on the marine mammal trade.

It will also change the Criminal Code, creating new animal cruelty offences related to the captivity of cetaceans. It also bans breeding.

The bill includes a grandfather clause for those animals already in facilities in Canada and permits legitimate research, as well as the rescue of animals in distress.

Both Marineland and Vancouver Aquarium said the anti-captivity bill had nothing to do with their decisions to move the whales.

“The decision to move them was made in their best interest, not because of politics,” the Vancouver Aquarium said.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation passed a bylaw amendment in 2017 banning cetaceans being brought to or kept in city parks after two beluga whales held at the aquarium died. The aquarium, which is located in Stanley Park, announced last year that it would phase out whale and dolphin display.

There are currently no whales at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“We do not believe that the passage of (the bill) will impact Marineland Canada’s ability to do what is right for our whales in the years to come,” Marineland said.

Marineland, which has more than 50 belugas, has taken issue with the breeding ban. The facility said in a letter to the fisheries minister that the park would be in contravention of the Criminal Code when the bill comes into force because some belugas are pregnant and set to give birth this summer after the bill becomes law.

“There is no easy or thoroughly effective birth control medication for beluga whales,” Marineland wrote in March. “In order to control breeding by Bill S-203, existing social family groups must be separated.”

The park wants more time to ensure it is in compliance with the law.

The United States is considering similar legislation and France has banned the captivity of all whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Morrissey Launches Protest Against Canada Goose Ahead of Canadian Tour

Morrissey Launches Protest Against Canada Goose Ahead of Canadian Tour

Morrissey is just days away from starting his Canadian tour, but he’s now taking aim at one of the country’s best known brands, Canada Goose, and urging Canadians to join his protest against the company.

The divisive Smiths singer has joined forces with PETA to call on the Canadian clothing brand to stop using fur and feathers in its products. In a newly posted open letter, Morrissey states that will be gathering fans’ signatures during the tour for a petition against Canada Goose. He then aims to deliver this to CEO Dani Reiss at the end of his Canadian tour.

“I’m writing to urge Canada Goose to act more like its namesake (e.g., smart, brave, and willing to fly off in a new direction) by making the bold ethical choice to remove coyote fur and down feathers from its parkas,” Morrissey begins in his letter.

“Canada Goose has almost singlehandedly revived the cruel trapping industry, in which animals can suffer for days and try to gnaw off their ensnared limbs before the trapper eventually returns to bludgeon them to death. No hood adornment is worth that. And geese are confined to cramped cages and trucked hundreds of miles to slaughter in all weather conditions before they’re hung upside down and their throats are slit—often while they’re still conscious — so that their feathers can be stuffed into (and poke out of) jackets.”

He adds: “I’d be the first to celebrate a cruelty-free Canada Goose coat by wearing one proudly. Until then, I’ll be collecting signatures during my Canadian tour calling for Canada Goose to stop killing animals for coats.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Moz has taken aim at Canadian business practices. In fact, he hasn’t stepped foot on Canadian soil since launching protests against the country’s seal-clubbing policies more than a decade ago.

As previously reported, Morrissey will also be embarking on Canadian tour this weekend with a pair of concerts in Vancouver. You can see his entire Canadian tour schedule over here.

Morrissey’s new album California Son is due out on May 24 via his BMGimprint Etienne.

Seal meat takes centre stage at Quebec culinary festival

Chefs say food hypocrisy has no place at their tables

Chef Jean-Philippe Bourassa-Caron serves seal meat for brunch during Seal Fest in Quebec City at Chez Boulay restaurant. Bourassa-Caron’s dish: seal terrine on mushroom purée topped with a bordelaise sauce and poached eggs. (Jane Adey/CBC)


Chef Jean-Philippe Bourassa-Caron prepares poached eggs and a bordelaise sauce for a new feature at his Chez Boulay restaurant in Quebec City.

The sauce and eggs complement an unexpected part of this brunch dish, a meat terrine made with seal.

“I really like to work with seal because it’s a nice taste,” said Bourassa-Caron.

Chez Boulay is one of 20 restaurants in Quebec City, Lévis and Montreal taking part in the second annual Seal Fest, a 10-day culinary festival celebrating seal meat.

Seal terrine (similar to paté) is served with bordelaise sauce, poached eggs and beets at Chez Boulay during Seal Fest 2019. (Jane Adey /CBC)

Bourassa-Caron says he knows some customers might have negative attitudes about the Canadian seal hunt, but he says those attitudes might need to be updated.

“You need to challenge your mind. You need to open your mind and give (it) a try.”

Seal Fest is a promotion by a Quebec company, SeaDNA, which sells seal meat and seal oil capsules, and by the Seals and Sealing Network, a national non-profit organization that promotes sustainable use of seals.

Frozen harp seal meat is harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador. Seal in French is ‘loup marine’ or ‘phoque.’ (Jane Adey/CBC)

Both the federal government and the provincial government of Quebec are supporting the event.

Andy Guffroy, head chef at L’Intimiste restaurant in Lévis, has prepared seal charcuterie for customers to try served with cheese, mussels and figs. He’s keen to expose foodies to seal meat and help educate diners about the hunt.

“I think we are a little bit hypocritical about meat. We go to the grocery stores and we buy the final product. We don’t see where it’s comes from. We don’t have any idea,” he said.

“So when we did research about the seal (hunt) we discovered that it’s very responsible in the way it’s done. It’s the way that needs to be done and there’s nothing horrible about it.”

Restaurant L’Intimiste in Lévis, Que., serves seal charcuterie and seal rillette (a thick meat spread) with cheese, mussels and figs during Seal Fest 2019. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Harp seal is harvested near the Magdalen Islands but most of the meat used during the festival is harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimates the current harp seal population to be 7.4 million animals, almost six times what it was in the 1970s.

“There is some evidence to suggest that the Northwest Atlantic harp seal population may be reaching levels close to its natural carrying capacity, which is the maximum number of individuals of a particular species that can be sustained by that species’ ecosystem,” reads DFO’s website.

Andy Guffroy, head chef at L’ Intimiste restaurant in Quebec, likes to educate customers about wild meat, including seal. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Seal tataki is on the menu at Le Renard et La Chouette. Chef Sarah Arab serves pieces of seal loin, lightly seared and rolled in Nordic shrimp powder she made from shrimp shells and herbs. She says she’s enjoyed learning more about the seal population and how they’re harvested.

“It was pretty eye-opening for me. I was more curious about it, naturally,” said Arab.

Her customers are curious too. Monica Oliver of Toronto sampled the seal tataki at Le Renard et La Chouette.

Chef Sarah Arab prepares seal tataki for Seal Fest 2019. Tataki is a dish consisting of meat or fish steak, served either raw or lightly seared. (Jane Adey/CBC)

“I got to say, it is an amazing dish,” she said, admitting to feeling some trepidation when she saw it on the menu.

“Growing up, it was definitely [the feeling that] seal hunting was very bad. I think Canadians definitely do need to hear both sides of the story and then make their decision.”

Felix Bajeau of Quebec City ordered up a seal meal during the festival too. He said he particularly enjoys eating wild meat.

“My brother is a hunter, so he hunt deers. If you eat meat it’s probably the same as eating beef or pork when you eat seal and maybe it’s even better because the animal lived a happy life in the wild before being eaten,” said Bajeau.

Chef Sarah Arab served the tataki rolled in herb crust and lightly seared, with parsnip purée, anchovy and za’atar vinaigrette with clams. (Jane Adey/CBC)

At Le Pied Bleu restaurant on Rue Saint Vallier in Quebec City, chef Fabrice Quenehen cooks up typical French cuisine inspired by his home in Lyon, France. For Seal Fest, Quenehen made a seal saucisson — or sausage — and served it in a lentil stew with a mushroom and red wine sauce.

“I really enjoyed to cook with this meat,” said Quenehen.

He encourages more chefs to experiment with seal and especially chefs in Newfoundland and Labrador. He says he’d like to see a seal cookbook that helps Canadians understand how to use this particular protein.

Fabrice Quenehen, originally from Lyon, France, is head chef at Le Pied Bleu in Quebec City and known for his cuisine using things like heart, liver, kidneys and glands. During Seal Fest 2019, he prepared seal saucisson for customers. (Jane Adey/CBC)

“We can eat this meat because the population is healthy enough to sustain it,” said Quenehen.

The quota for harp seals in Newfoundland and Labrador is 400,000 animals. In 2018, 60,000 animals were taken from that quota, far fewer than is allowed.

Seal Fest began March 21 and runs until Sunday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Inuit hunters challenge sex ratio rule for polar bear harvesting


Arviat HTO chairperson Thomas Alikasua says polar bears are digging up gravesites in his community. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Arviat HTO chairperson Thomas Alikasua says polar bears are digging up gravesites in his community. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

“What’s more valuable, a cabin, a snowmobile, or a human life?” Kivalliq Wildlife Board Vice-Chair Richard Aksawnee asks during polar bear management hearings in Iqaluit on Thursday, Nov. 15. The KWB wants public safety to be a priority in polar bear management, following the death of a man in Arviat and one in Naujaat this summer. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

“What’s more valuable, a cabin, a snowmobile, or a human life?” Kivalliq Wildlife Board Vice-Chair Richard Aksawnee asks during polar bear management hearings in Iqaluit on Thursday, Nov. 15. The KWB wants public safety to be a priority in polar bear management, following the death of a man in Arviat and one in Naujaat this summer. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Inuit hunters should not be penalized for killing more female polar bears than allowed under Nunavut’s current harvesting system, the Kivalliq Wildlife Board says.

The board wants to see a five-year ban on penalties that are currently applied when Inuit hunters exceed a ratio of two males for every one female.

That’s according to a written submission sent on Oct. 12 to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, giving feedback on the Government of Nunavut’s latest draft plan for polar bear management.

If approved by the NWMB, the new plan would replace an existing polar bear management strategy in Nunavut that predates the territory.

KWB vice chair Richard Aksawnee of Baker Lake presented that submission on Thursday, Nov. 15, the third day of a four-day hearing attended by wildlife delegates from each community in Nunavut.

In giving his submission, Aksawnee asked Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. for advice on how Nunavut hunters and trappers organizations could take legal action under the Nunavut Agreement when Inuit hunting rights are violated.

“It is the HTOs’ mandate to represent the interests of Inuit hunters and their hunting rights,” Aksawnee said. “It is extremely important that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit be more integrated.”

The KWB is suggesting that after five years without penalties, the GN could then do a conservation review to see how male and female populations are affected.

“After five years, a harvesting analysis and population survey can be done to determine what ratio of males and females were actually caught during the time period and evaluate the impact on the overall [Western Hudson Bay Polar Bear] population to determine whether severe penalizations for overharvesting females need to be reinstated,” reads the KWB submission.

If eliminating penalties on the male-female sex ratio for harvested polar bears cannot be agreed to, then the KWB says it is open to talking about other ideas—as long as those options focus on Inuit knowledge and prioritize public safety.

The hearing comes following two polar bear-related deaths in the Kivalliq region this summer, one in Arviat and one in Naujaat.

“These tragic events led to public outcries about the dangers presented by polar bears and have tested community members’ limits with how polar bear management currently is practiced,” the KWB wrote.

Given this, the KWB is also asking for a more robust polar bear-deterrent program and for conservation officers in every community.

Aksawnee echoed the concerns of other delegates who said the government isn’t treating polar bear management as a life or death scenario.

“We at the KWB, we cannot understand why the government is willing to compensate for property damage, and not a human life,” Aksawnee said. “What’s more valuable, a cabin, a snowmobile, or a human life?”

The GN currently has a program where residents can apply for funding when property is damaged by wildlife. The Workers Safety and Compensation Board does compensate active harvesters injured while hunting, and families of harvesters fatally injured in their work, a GN lawyer said.

The NWMB suggested that a full information package about this program be circulated to community HTOs in Nunavut.

There are 38 polar bear tags for the Kivalliq region now, after Nunavut’s Minister of Environment added four tags to the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation quota this summer.

The Arviat HTO is asking that tags be increased again under the current management system—where defence kills count as one tag, and a female killed outside the allowable sex ratio could count as two tags.

“The polar bears are digging up graves. This is too much,” Arviat HTO chairperson Thomas Alikasua said.

Wildlife monitors in the community see polar bears every day, he added.

As a former Arviat resident, NWMB chairperson, a former Nunavut MLA and cabinet minister, Dan Shewchuk said, “It’s scary to live in that community right now.”

A wildlife specialist for the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board said on Nov. 14 that Inuit hunters are seeing more unhealthy male bears in Nunavut. Those hunters suggest the male population is over-hunted because of the sex ratio, potentially making polar bears more aggressive without the competition and guidance of older more experienced male bears.

Submissions to the NWMB by federal groups and environmental organizations said the GN’s proposed plan for bear management overlooks the impact climate change has on polar bear populations.

“We’re not out to slaughter bears,” said the KWB’s Brian Sigurdson, who is also chair of the Rankin Inlet HTO.

But increased quotas now would mean quota reductions later, said Drikus Gissing, director of wildlife management for the Department of Environment.

“My experience in Nunavut is people don’t like decreasing quotas,” he said.

Wildlife officials in Nunavut are now investigating the illegal killing of four bears near Arviat that followed the summer death of Aaron Gibbons.

As Kivalliq communities share polar bear populations with Manitoba, the KWB is also monitoring a growing northern tourism industry around Churchill that could make polar bears more used to being around humans.

“In Nunavut polar bears are hunted by Inuit. In Manitoba, they are a tourist attraction,” Aksawnee said.

‘Large-bodied’ Canadian wolves to help keep U.S. moose population in check

WolvesWolves are seen in a 2009 handout image on Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. (Michigan Technological University, Rolf O. Peterson)

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 30, 2019 4:50PM EST 

The transfer of up to six wolves from a northern Ontario island where they were starving to the U.S. is getting underway following a weeks-long delay caused by the federal government shutdown south of the border.

The small pack, including the alpha male and female, will be moved from Michipicoten Island to Isle Royale National Park, on the U.S. side of Lake Superior, where American officials hope the wolves will help keep the moose population in check.

“We need to get these wolves off the island, otherwise they’ll die,” said Aaron Bumstead, director of lands and economic development with Michipicoten First Nation who is co-ordinating the move with the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Last year, the province and the First Nation used several helicopters to move a total of 15 caribou — a threatened species in Ontario — off Michipicoten Island. Nine of the animals were transferred to the Slate Islands, and the other six to Caribou Island.

They were the last remaining caribou from a once-thriving herd on Michipicoten Island that started with just eight caribou in 1982 and grew to more than 700 by 2013, when four wolves reached the island after making the 15-kilometre trek across an ice bridge that formed on the lake.

There they found a bounty of caribou to feast on. But as the small pack grew to more than a dozen wolves in the following years, their food source — the caribou — all but disappeared. Now the wolves themselves are in danger, said Bumstead.

“We’ve been asking (the ministry) for a plan to remove the wolves from the island since last year,” Bumstead said. “And there still is no plan to remove the ones that don’t get moved to Isle Royale.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Natural Resources said she wouldn’t comment on the wolves’ transfer until the animals were captured and transferred to the U.S.

Bumstead said efforts to capture the wolves on Michipicoten Island were unsuccessful Wednesday. The two wolves they saw wouldn’t come out from under cover, he said, so they’ll try again Thursday.

American officials and researchers with Isle Royale are anxious to receive the Canadian wolves because it will help save the park’s current pack, which dwindled this fall to just a non-breeding father-daughter pair.

The move was slated to occur in early January, but that was shelved because of the U.S. federal government shutdown, said Isle Royale National Park superintendent Phyllis Green.

“The Canadian wolves are robust, large and definitely know how to hunt ungulates since they took that caribou herd down to nothing,” Green said.

There is an overabundance of moose on Isle Royale, and without enough wolves to keep their population in check their numbers will continue to grow, said Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Technological University who has been studying the wolves and moose on the island for the past 48 years.

His research — the world’s longest running predator-prey study — was also threatened by the U.S. government shutdown. On Friday, just hours before U.S. President Donald Trump temporarily ended the government shutdown, the Isle Royale National Park had secured funding from a non-profit organization to go ahead with its part in the wolves’ transfer from Canada. The funding also allowed it to open the park to researchers to continue the predator-prey study.

“The shutdown jeopardized the integrity of the data and of the entire study itself,” said Peterson, who plans to return to the park as soon as the Canadian wolves are moved.

“These large-bodied Canadian wolves are incredibly important,” he said. “They can help save both the wolf pack and the balsam fir.”

The moose on the island, with a population of about 1,600, have decimated the balsam fir trees on the island.

Twenty-two years ago, a lone wolf, likely from Canada, made its way on an ice bridge onto Isle Royale, Peterson said, and was a wildly successful mate with offspring in every pack and eventually his genes made their way into every single younger generation wolf on the island.

“Then the kill rate of moose by wolves reached a level we hadn’t ever seen before in 50 years. They were killing 20 per cent of the moose every year, which had implications for the forest,” Peterson said.

“We saw forest regeneration we had never seen before.”

But that wolf, dubbed the “Old Grey Guy,” Green said, was so successful that inbreeding became very severe. Eventually the wolf population crashed and bottomed out at two, which is when the park decided it needed outside help. Four wolves were brought in from Minnesota in the fall, but one died of pneumonia a month later.

Green said they knew about the issues facing the wolves on Michipicoten Island and Michigan’s governor at the time, Rick Snyder, reached out to Ontario Premier Doug Ford to ask for “an infusion of Canadian wolves.”

Ford agreed.

“Let’s hope everything goes well with the move,” Bumstead said.

Felix defies the odds; on road to recovery

Jim Moodie The Sudbury Star
An injured cub found on the railway tracks north of Sudbury is now being cared for at the Bear With Us sanctuary in Muskoka. He was initially treated at Wild At Heart in Lively. JIM MOODIE/SUDBURY STAR

Felix Beartholomew is back on his feet.

The resilient cub, who got that impressive name from his rescuers, is now on the mend at a Muskoka bear sanctuary after being struck by a train north of Sudbury last month.

Found concussed and bleeding on the tracks by rail workers, the bear was initially treated for his injuries at Wild At Heart in Sudbury.

Larry Burkholder of Capreol said he and his partner Joe Nadeau, of Garson, were in a high-rail truck performing maintenance duties on Dec. 9 when they spied the animal.

“We came around the curve and saw something between the rails,” he said. “We stopped about 40 feet away and got out and walked up on it, and there were little balls of snow on it, like marshmallows, so it had been lying there for some time with trains passing right over top.”

The cub wasn’t moving and neither man would have been surprised to find it deceased — not too many animals survive a collision with a train, let alone an extended period of time stuck between the rails — but this was one tough little bear.

As they got closer, “it blinked at us,” said Burkholder. “We looked at each other and it was just, you know, our hearts went out to the poor thing. We had to try to do something.”

The cub had a skull fracture and couldn’t use its legs, so the two scooped him up in a jacket — Burkholder said he weighed less than 20 pounds — and placed him in the back of the truck, although it wasn’t long before he was riding in the cab.

“We drove about four miles with him in the box, but there was no movement from the animal so we brought it inside,” Burkholder said. “We made him a spot on the floor of the backseat with my co-worker’s parka and he was compliant the whole way back.”

They had collected the bear near Felix, a train stop about 200 kilometres north of Sudbury. That provided a good name — or half of a good name, anyway — for the animal, but it was a long haul to get him to Wild At Heart.

The co-workers had to pull aside to let trains pass and then transfer the bear to another truck. In all, the trip took about five hours. En route they called Wild at Heart and kept up a kind of conversation with their passenger.

“We made some noises and he would groan back a little,” said Burkholder. “But he had a severe concussion. As we got closer to Lively he wasn’t making much of a sound, and you could tell his breathing was getting shallower.”

Luckily veterinarian and Wild at Heart director Rod Jouppi was there to help right away, stitching up the bear’s head wound and providing antibiotics and painkillers.

About a week later he had improved enough to be transferred to Bear With Us, a facility near Huntsville that specializes in rehabbing orphaned and injured bears.

Mike McIntosh of Bear With Us said Tuesday the cub has made significant strides.

“He’s coming along quite well and I think he’s going to be fine,” he said. “He’s still a bit disoriented but his motor skills have improved a lot.”

The cub was “very underweight” when he arrived, said McIntosh, but is packing on some pounds now, thanks to a steady diet of raw eggs, yogurt and blueberries.

“It will be a month before he hibernates because he still has to put on weight,” he said. “Once he’s fat enough, he’ll be comfortable, curled up in a mound of straw, but right now he’s still looking for food all the time.”

He doesn’t have to look far for friendship, however, as McIntosh recently installed another cub in the same space with Felix Beartholomew.

“I integrated him a week or so ago with another cub I got from Blind River on Christmas Eve,” he said. “The day after I put them together, they were cuddling up.”

McIntosh said he’s had other bears with head injuries that took longer to recover, so he’s quite optimistic about this one’s chance of leading a normal life and making a return to the wild.

“The credit goes to those two rail employees,” he said. “If they had assumed he was dead, he would be dead. It’s amazing he survived with those trains going over, straddling him — if anything was hanging down, he would be whacked. He’s a lucky cub in more ways than one.”

Burkholder said he’s just glad he and Nadeau were able to act before it was too late.

“If the ravens had got on it, the eyes would be gone and it would have been a different story,” he said. “So we were lucky there.”

Starvation would have kicked in, too, if a train hurtling over its head hadn’t struck sooner.

“That’s what really gets me,” he said. “Some trains are 10,000 feet long, and with this poor thing inches away, who knows how close it was to being finished off. But luck was with it.”

Burkholder said he and Nadeau named the bear because it was such a unique experience, and they were moved by its ability to hang on and beat the odds.

They are still following his progress, too, through updates from Wild At Heart and Bear With Us.

“Sometimes you don’t have to be with something very long to get a bond,” he said.

The Man Who Befriended Bears


Charlie Russell loved to fly, and he seldom phoned first those times when he would fly his Kolb ultralight airplane north from Hawk’s Nest ranch on the boundary of Waterton Lakes National Park, to our “ranchette” near the Crowsnest Pass. We would hear the thrum of the plane’s Rotax motor bouncing off the nearby Livingstone Range, then the tiny white two-seater, looking like a giant lawn dart, grew suddenly loud as he buzzed the place, wagging his wings close enough for us to see his snaggle-toothed grin. Our horses would tear down the field, eyes rolling from his low approach. He would circle over the road, then sail in under the Fortis power line, set the plane down on the gravel and taxi up to our cattle guard. Then he’d get out, grab a length of rope from the cockpit and tie off the plane to a fence post with a cowboy slip knot so the wind couldn’t blow it over. He had long promised to take my wife Myrna for a ride, and one day she called him on it. “Well, I guess today’s the day then,” he grinned. I didn’t like the look of the clouds over Centre Peak, but Myrna’s face said, “You don’t get a vote.”

“Just tell me that you don’t have a halibut jig tied to the tail wheel this time.”

“What’s he talking about?” Myrna demanded.

“Ha!” laughed Charlie. “He’ll tell you later.”

Charlie Russell died on May 7 in Calgary due to complications following a five-hour surgical procedure. Charlie used up his nine lives long ago, but his death at 76 was still shocking to those who knew him well. Few people have lived as intensely as this man, or as dangerously. He has flown in some of the worst conditions on earth and walked or crawled (with a broken back one time) away from both a hang-glider and an ultra-light crash, and over time he prevailed in a number of forced landings. He is, he was, internationally famous for the ground-breaking work he and the artist Maureen Enns did at Kambalnoye Lake, Kamchatka, in Russia, living in close proximity with brown bears and raising orphaned cubs which not only survived the wilds but eventually reproduced. A mentor to many naturalists, his experiments in “exploring the possibilities of trust” challenged the prevalent orthodoxy of his day, which held that bears that have no fear of humans are always extremely dangerous, and that all bears are unpredictable and therefore always a threat to humans. Yet he was wise enough to know that what he learned working with those wild bears in BC and Kamchatka, in true wilderness settings, should not be applied by the layman to human-influenced bears in our southern national parks.

Charlie was raised in bear country and learned all the skills of mountain bush craft and horsemanship guiding hunters on his father’s pack-train. In 1960 Charlie and his brother Dick roughed it through Canada and Alaska to help Andy Russell make his groundbreaking film Grizzly Country. After studying photography in New York, and a stint living in New Zealand with his first wife, Margaret, Charlie took up ranching at Hawk’s Nest, his family home. But his heart wasn’t in it and he spent a lot of his time working on conservation projects, such as the Waterton Biosphere Reserve initiative. Many bears were dying at the hands of ranchers and hunters in southwest Alberta at that time. This bear of a man, Russell, was angered by the carnage, for as he often growled, “Anything that hurts the bears, hurts me.” He became the first Canadian rancher to deliberately move cattle carcasses to safe places on his ranch near the park boundary, so that bears could feed on them without being shot.

Eventually Charlie gave up on ranching, and in the 1990s he took a job guiding tourists on grizzly-bear-watching tours in the Khutzeymateen inlet of BC. Charlie’s superb talent at reading ursine body language, and his sensitive, ego-free approach to all wildlife, allowed for close encounters of the ursine kind. Myrna and I are two of the many people that have sat with him on a big driftwood log at the water’s edge as a female grizzly grazed on sedges at our feet, unafraid of us, and offering no threat to us. As a former park warden, I helped to capture many bears, but I never felt as reassured around them as I felt in Charlie’s company. His skill as a bear guide led to an offer in 1991 to work with filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner of Princeton, BC. With Charlie’s help, they shot a famous BBC documentary on the Kermode “Spirit Bears” of Princess Royal Island. Charlie worked on documentaries, wrote books, collaborated with conservation groups and biologists and helped shape public opinion to push for a grizzly sanctuary in both the Khutzeymateen and Kamchatka and a protected area for Kermode bears on Princess Royal Island.

In 1993 the Turners’ plan called for Charlie to provide and pilot an ultralight plane, capable of water landings, to be used as an aerial camera platform. Charlie and his late son Anthony Russell began building the plane at Hawk’s Nest—all over Hawk’s Nest, since he didn’t have a big enough barn for the project. Every building on the place had a piece of the plane in it and Charlie was getting increasingly frantic to get the thing riveted together as a deadline for departure for the island loomed. On a snowy March day, I joined filmmaker Jeff Turner to help Charlie with some last-minute detailing. We worked all day; darkness found us riveting the cockpit canopy carefully onto thin steel tubing. I suddenly stubbed my toe on a snow-covered object. “Shit! What’s this thing, Charlie?” Charlie peered down at it for a second, distracted, bent down and swept the snow off it with his boot. “It’s just the in-flight computer.”

“Oh, is that all it is? Wow. I thought I had stepped on something important.”

I worried about that computer later that spring, when Canadian Geographiccommissioned me to write a feature article on the Kermode bears with Charlie to supply the photos. As a result I spent about four weeks that summer and fall on the island, hosted by the Turners at their camp. One did not just swan around taking notes with the hard-working Turners, and I soon found myself humping camera gear through the rainforest with Charlie. The white bears were living up to their reputation as ghosts of the rainforest, staying out of sight and waiting for the coho to run. Charlie had already befriended both black and white bears he encountered in the bush, and could identify individuals by size, shape and colouration. One day, we were sitting on a log taking a break while a black bear fished in a desultory manner nearby. The rains, and the main run of salmon that rain would trigger, had not yet begun. Charlie grinned at me, ran his fingers through his thick black hair, then leaned over in a bear-like manner and stirred the water with a calloused paw, peering  intently into the stream. The black bear splashed over and took up a position next to him almost touching his shoulder. I froze, too startled to get my little Balda camera out of my pack. The bear peered intently into the water, and then, realizing there was no fish in sight, backed away slowly, giving Charlie a sidelong glance. His body language said, “Dude—that is not funny.”

We were working one day in a creekbed, picking our way among slimy boulders and fish guts, stringing up a thousand feet of climbing rope between fir trees for an overhead camera sequence. Charlie pointed out a giant flat topped boulder in midstream. “I was playing with a bear on that rock one day, and things got out of hand.”


“Yeah. I was up there taking a break, and he came down the bank, spotted me, and came up to visit.”

“To visit?”

“Yeah. I’ve come to know him pretty well. I could tell he was feeling playful. He was really inviting me to wrestle. I wasn’t sure if I should, but he was so friendly. Anyway, he stood up. He had a really mischievous gleam in his eye, and I thought what the heck. So I got ready to grapple with him. God, they are so strong! He just knocked me right over. I landed on those boulders.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Yeah. I could tell he was surprised. I looked up, and he was peering down at me. I think it really puzzled him, how weak humans are. He didn’t mean to hurt me. I was really banged up for a while there.”

“Jesus H. Christ on a crutch. You were playing King-of-the-Castle with a bear?”

“Yeah. I think I went a bit too far that time,” he added, sheepishly.

Those who know Charlie’s books might say he should have known better. He had wrestled with a bear before, in Waterton Park in the ’80s when he and his son, Anthony, then age 11, wandered in between a black bear sow and her cubs. The little sow attacked, and Charlie and Anthony were soon in a tag team bout with her. She knocked Anthony down and Charlie went after her with fists and boots. When she got on top of Charlie, Anthony, armed with a piece of elk antler he had found earlier, whacked her over the head. She then bit Anthony on the behind, and Charlie again attacked until the sow finally retreated. The sow was fine, and the humans escaped with bruises and puncture wounds, but Charlie always said that Anthony had saved his life that day.

As a former park warden I helped capture many bears, but I never felt as reassured around them as I felt in Charlie’s company.

But about that halibut jig. We were sitting in the cook tent over coffee one morning with Sue, Jeff and their daughter Chelsea, when Charlie popped the question I had been dreading. “Will you fly with me?”

Charlie knew I hated flying. I nearly choked on the coffee, set the cup down. “I’d be happy to,” I lied.

The two us, both heavyweights, climbed into the little plane and strapped in, while Jeff Turner pushed us away from the pier. We had a windscreen in front of us, but were otherwise open to the weather. The motor sits behind the passengers on this craft. There was no intercom, so once the motor started conversation was by sign language. We taxied down the inlet and I could see why it was going to be hard to keep this plane aloft just by force of my willpower alone, since there were no armrests to grip in white-knuckled fear while will-powering. Charlie punched me in the shoulder, a big grin on his face, and opened the throttle as we raced down the inlet. This is a short takeoff plane, but our run seemed to go on forever, and we did not lift off the water. Frowning, he slowed down and we taxied back to try it again. I can’t recall how many times we attempted take-off; it seemed like 10 but was probably only three. At last we returned to the pier, the motor idling. “Well, I guess it’s just not in the cards today,” I said, happily.

“No problem,” said Charlie. “I know what we need. Just stay in the plane while I get it.”

He hurried up the beach to camp, and soon returned with his fishing tackle box in one paw. As I watched, puzzled, he pulled out a lead halibut jig with its attached hook, and tied it to the tail-wheel with some fishing line. “We’ve got it now,” he said with a happy grin as he settled back behind the controls.

“We’ve got it? Are we trolling for halibut now?” I asked, mystified.

“Ha! We’re going to catch some air.”

Once more we hurtled down the inlet, two porkers making the ultralight nose heavy. But this time, the halibut jig was just enough tail weight (at 17.6 ounces) to pull the tail down allowing the wings to catch some lift. And we flew around and around up above Princess Royal Island and Laredo Inlet looking for white Kermodes, and scared the hell out of some tourists in a yacht in an 80-mph swoop. And except one time when I took a ride in a sailplane, I felt about as close to being an eagle, and like an eagle, oblivious to fear, as I have ever been.

In Kamchatka Charlie learned how to find a hole in the fog and spiral his plane up into the clear sky. He made many personal sacrifices in choosing to devote his life to finding a way through the foggy notions people have about bears and our relationship to nature. The best way to honour Charlie is to make some new holes in the fog of misunderstanding that keeps people from living at peace with nature, and therefore with ourselves.

This article was originally published in The Tyee, June 1, 2018. Sid Marty is a writer and long-time resident of southern Alberta. He has published five books of non-fiction and three of poetry. His Leaning on the Wind: Under the Spell of the Great Chinook andThe Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek were finalists for Governor General’s Awards.

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