In response to an appeal being lodged to challenge its plan to kill some sixty white-tailed deer in Parc Michel-Chartrand, the town of Longueuil pledged on Wednesday to suspend the operation, which was scheduled for this autumn. be decided on merit.
For the Montreal SPCA, which became a party to the litigation as an intervener, the Longueuil deer case is emblematic of an issue that is becoming increasingly important in Quebec: the responsible management of wildlife in our communities. With urban sprawl and climate change, providing sustainable, animal-welfare-friendly solutions to overpopulation problems has become a pressing issue.
Our relationship with animals has evolved enormously in recent years. Since 2015, Quebec law has recognized animals as “sentient beings” and also recognizes that we, as a society, have a collective responsibility to ensure their well-being. By default, capturing and killing wild animals, simply because they are considered “harmful”, is no longer socially acceptable. We see this with the Michel-Chartrand Park deer, but we also see it in other cases, such as the polar bear recently killed in the Gaspé, an event that prompted around 55,000 people to sign a petition demanding a public inquiry.
However, the “solution” that the town of Longueuil plans to implement in Parc Michel-Chartrand is to capture the deer using snares and then kill them with a percussion weapon followed by bloodletting. This plan is problematic in several respects. First, the method of killing involves serious risks of injury and suffering. The percussion pistol is designed for use on animals confined in a controlled environment such as a slaughterhouse.
To cause immediate loss of consciousness, the tool must be positioned directly on the animal’s skull and in a very specific location on it, which requires complete immobilization for at least a few seconds in a row. It would be difficult to completely immobilize, for several seconds, a wild deer struggling in a trap without resorting to strong sedatives or anesthetics, elements that are not part of the City Hall’s plan. In this context, proper placement of the percussion pistol in the deer’s skull is nearly impossible, which creates a significant risk of repeated failed attempts.
In fact, the percussion pistol is not considered an acceptable tool for wild animals in the wild, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which publishes authoritative guidelines on euthanasia methods.
So, according to the documents filed in support of the action, the Municipality’s plan does not include any preventive component through the sterilization or chemical contraception of the cattle destined to remain in the Michel-Chartrand Park. The killing of about sixty deer would therefore only be a temporary solution. The deer in the park and their young will therefore have to undergo repeated lethal interventions as the population increases over the years.
When we look at what is being done elsewhere, we see that it is possible to choose responsible wildlife management, based on science and not relying on the use of lethal methods. In the community of Oak Bay, British Columbia, for example, a non-lethal management strategy for urban deer has been in place since 2019. After just one year of administering contraceptive vaccines, the relative abundance of young has declined by nearly 60%.
Interestingly, prior to the establishment of this program, Oak Bay had invested over $150,000 in a capture and kill project where only 11 deer were trapped and killed. The method used, similar to that proposed by the city of Longueuil, then caused an outcry.
It is imperative that Quebec develop experience in the type of approach finally implemented in Oak Bay. The deer problem in Michel-Chartrand Park presents the ideal opportunity to test new methods of population control in the form of a research project, in order to contribute to the development of scientific knowledge in this field.
I Sophie Gaillard is Director of Animal Defense and Legal Affairs for the Montreal SPCA. This text first appeared in Le Devoir.