Persecution and Hunting
Wolves, Wild Dogs and Foxes: Page 4 To counter the strong anti-wolf prejudice, a new organization called the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, has live wolves in an enclosure, museum exhibits and field classes. The 50,000 visitors it has received in the past few years brought $3 million to the local economy (Chadwick 1998). But wolves in Minnesota and elsewhere continue to be taken in traps set for other types of animals, causing injury or death. One study on wolves taken in various types of traps was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management (Ballenberghe 1984). It investigated injuries and mortality of 126 wolves trapped in northeastern Minnesota and Alaska. Traps used included steel jaw leghold traps of various types, some with teeth, others with smooth offset jaws; steel cable foot snares; and cable neck snares equipped with devices that prevented the loop from fully closing (Ballenberghe 1984). The results confirmed that steel jaw leghold traps caused the greatest number of injuries and mortalities: 41 percent of 109 adults, yearlings and pups caught in these traps incurred serious foot and leg injuries, defined as lacerations, damage to tissue, bone breakage, and joint dislocations (Ballenberghe 1984). Three wolves, including a pup, had broken leg bones; two others lost front feet after they were nearly amputated by the trap. One young male with broken radius and ulna bones in his foreleg was released in this study to stumble off; this wolf was caught by a trapper several months later (Ballenberghe 1984).
Other injuries resulted when trapped animals gnawed their own feet off and chewed on the traps, breaking teeth and splitting lips. The steel jaw leghold traps caused tissue, muscle and tendon injuries, even when checked daily (Ballenberghe 1984). Since the observations carried out were not done by a veterinarian, or with aid of X-rays and other sophisticated tools to arrive at diagnoses, many unnoticed or undetectable damage to nerves, ligaments and other body parts almost certainly went undetected. Other effects of trapping noted in his study were heat and water stress; stress from risk of discovery and killing by people happening upon them; killing by other predators finding them trapped; and undiagnosed trauma (Ballenberghe 1984). In the same study, a wolf was killed by a cable neck snare when it passed over his chest and closed around his stomach. Long-term effects from broken teeth, severed tendons and poorly healed bones made survival unlikely. This was the case with Wolf 6530, described above, who suffered for many months with an injured paw after pulling free from a leghold trap, becoming weaker and weaker until he died.
Another method tested involved darting animals with tranquilizers from helicopters, which resulted in the euthanizing of a wolf after it became paralyzed when the dart penetrated its spinal column (Ballenberghe 1984). Of the animals darted, 85 percent sustained injuries and soft tissue damage. The Ballenberghe study also cited other research projects with even higher mortalities, and commented, "None of the wolf capture methods discussed here resulted in study animals that were free of injuries, but some methods clearly had more potential to inflict serious injuries than others."
The steel jaw leghold traps that Ballenberghe found to be the most injurious are the very traps that are still used by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Animal Damage Control (ADC)*, state game departments and others, killing wolves and many non-target animals. The US Department of Agriculture's Animal Damage Control program, which traps hundreds of thousands of Coyotes, Cougars and other predators for the benefit of livestock owners, has been responsible for the incidental trapping of endangered and threatened species, from Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) to Gray Wolves.
*Animal Damage Control (ADC) has since been changed to “Wildlife Services.”
Many wolves are trapped by wire snares. A loop of wire pulls tight and cuts through the skin when the animal steps into it or, in the case of a neck snare, it is placed a few feet off the ground and strangles and cuts through the flesh of an animal blundering into it. Most US states allow wire snares, and wolves are taken in them in Alaska. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has sponsored various control programs or "studies" on wolves, using airplanes, steel jaw leghold traps and, most often, wire snares. The avowed purpose of recent state research, which involved trapping wolves in a large wildlife management area near Fairbanks, was to determine their population and effect on ungulate prey, such as Moose, Caribou and Elk. In fact, this and similar "studies" have been launched after hunters urged the state to eliminate wolves in order to leave more prey species. The rationale of the trapping program is based on the premise that killing wolves will result in increases in the population of these prey animals. A program in the 1970s involved the elimination of wolves from a 3,000-square-mile area, but according to Warren Ballard, a retired game biologist from Alaska, the Moose population did not rebound after wolves were exterminated (Egan 1992). Moreover, it creates an imbalance in the ecosystem. Killing of ungulates by human hunters does not cull the sick and old, but rather the fittest and largest.
In 1992, such a wolf "research" program, involving the setting of thousands of wire snares, was carried out south of Fairbanks. Gordon Haber, a conservationist and wolf biologist who has worked for decades on behalf of Alaska's wolves, brought television crews to film the snaring operation in December 1994. They were shocked by the scene that awaited them. Four wolves had been caught in wire snares, two of them pups. One was dead, and three were still alive, terrified and in great pain. A 6-month-old pup, with its paw caught in a neck snare, had chewed off its foreleg in a futile effort to escape. Another had been snared around the chest, causing deep wounds. The other two had been snared by the leg. All these snares had been set to catch the wolves by the neck and kill them, yet none did. Members of the pack milled about nearby, unwilling to leave their fellows. Two snared Caribou were lying dead nearby. A trapper was filmed as he attempted to shoot the wolves, repeatedly missing or wounding them because he used the wrong caliber ammunition in his gun. He shot one pup five times in the head and body at point-blank range with the wrong gauge ammunition. The pup, wounded, remained standing. The trapper then reloaded with other ammunition, and this time shot all three wolves fatally.
The film of this massacre was shown on national news programs, causing outrage around the country. Alaska Governor Tony Knowles called off the hunt, ordered a review and stated, "That's no way to treat an animal." Six hundred and eighty-five snares set for this program were removed from state lands, but not before 12 more wolves had been killed. More than 1,000 snares had been set by the state for this "study," which lasted two years. On February 2, 1995, Governor Knowles made public the results of the Gray Wolf kill review. During the program, 134 wolves were snared, 37 of which were found alive and had to be shot. Also caught in the neck snares were Moose, Caribou, Grizzly Bears, Wolverines, Coyotes, Red Foxes, Arctic Hares, Common Ravens and Golden Eagles (AWI 1995). This gruesome haul of non-target animals is typical of the indiscriminate nature of snares.
Governor Knowles canceled the wolf kill indefinitely and ordered a review of Alaska's entire predator-control policy. This "research" program was permanently canceled in February 1995. A biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game admitted in 1997, while appraising the program, that it had been ill-conceived, poorly run and politically motivated. He insisted, however, that wolves had suffered no pain from the snaring and even from chewing off their own paws. This failure to acknowledge proven neurological effects of such injuries is not unusual among state game department officials.
In 1996, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began a new program to curtail the wolf population in the Fortymile region near Fairbanks. This time, the program consisted of sterilizing the alpha male and female of each of the 15 wolf packs in the area, with plans to relocate all "subordinate" wolves (Trost 1998). The plan to reduce all 15 packs to a single sterile pair was intended to increase the number of Caribou for hunters (Trost 1998). The Alaska Wildlife Alliance strongly opposed this project, and Gordon Haber expressed the opinion that it would reduce the wolves of the area to the brink of extinction (Trost 1998). This research program was described as "based on assumptions" by the National Academy of Sciences.
Alaska's trapping regulations are the laxest in the country, with no visitation requirement, meaning that trappers are not required, as in most states, to check traps daily for animals. Animals suffer in steel jaw leghold traps or snares for days. One case is known of a trapped Lynx--brought food by its mate--that lived for six weeks with its leg caught in a leghold trap.
No state regulations govern the manner in which trapped animals are killed, and trappers often stomp trapped animals to death to obtain pelts without damage--such as that caused by bullet holes--to the pelt. The Alaska Game Department takes advantage of the strong ties between wolf pack mates by requiring trappers of wolves to count the number of wolves in the packs of the animals they trap. Pack mates will usually remain by their trapped pack mate, even when it is dead in a trap.