The silent howl: Government programs have killed over 22,000 wolves

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Special thanks to Publisher, Kathy O’Reilly. Originally printed Friday, October 18, 2019 in The North Island Eagle.

Then they placed him on a big box and taught him the Tlokoala [wolf dance]…Then the Wolves around the house could be heard howling and inside everyone danced all the dances which today are performed by people…Thereupon they took him off the box and placed him beside the chief. Then the Wolves dragged in a dead person. They wrapped the corpse in a Wolf skin, laid it down by the fire and began signing…Then the dead person rose and staggered around. But the longer they sang, the surer he stepped and finally he ran just like a Wolf…Then the chief said to Hasakutl, “Now you see what becomes of the dead. We make Wolves of them. Know that this is the Tlokoala.” (Franz Boaz, 1895, recounting coastal indigenous origins of the wolf dance).     

As Halloween approaches, many of us Vancouver Islanders will be entertaining ourselves with ghost stories and scary movies. From hauntings and witchcraft, to curses and the un-dead, our collective goosebumps will no doubt be enough to give us neck-hair standing shivers. In the midst of all the costumes and heebie-jeebies this October, there’s another story that is truly frightening and likely to haunt many of us in the near future – the slaughter of BC’s wolves.

A few weeks ago, the government announced it would be initiating a new wolf cull program this winter. The target? A staggering 80% of certain wolf populations in the BC interior. I wanted to know how many other wolves had been killed over the decades, so I started poking around.

Between 1922-1955 the BC government initiated a bounty program which saw 22,881 wolves killed. Let’s put this into perspective for a minute. A single grown wolf has a rough average body weight of 45-50kg (i.e., right around 100 pounds) with a total blood volume of approx. 4,000 ml (i.e., just over 1 gallon). That’s over 22,000 milk jugs of blood. It’s enough blood to completely fill two semi-truck fuel tankers (with more to spare) or fill over 1,000 cars. Anybody puke yet? No? Try this one for “size.” How much space would all those wolf skins cover you ask? In a scene straight out of Silence of the Lambs (the Anthony Hopkins serial killer film where the bad guy is sewing skin together for clothes), let’s put it this way, the BC Legislature wouldn’t look like it currently does if you stretch them all out over the building.

During the 1970s and 1980s the wolf cull was continued under various government sanctioned programs, ending sometime around 1988. While we will never know the true total body count after years of killing, what we do know is our old friends in Victoria are at it again this winter in yet another war on BC’s wolves. Between 2015 and the upcoming 2019 winter, the BC government is on track to kill upwards of an additional 1,000 wolves. Stacked nose to skull base, the government kill program will have enough wolf heads to reach from the foundation floor of the BC Legislature building all the way to the top of the Captain Vancouver statue on the bell tower roof, 5 times over.

Virtually every indigenous culture in BC speaks of the wolf with reverence, linking wolves with the land of the dead and the spirits of fallen elders. At the time of this writing, the ghost wolf Staqeya is still believed to haunt the area of Oak-Bay, with sightings frequent through the last few years. In many coastal indigenous cultures, it is forbidden to kill a wolf because of the intimate connection to the first peoples of this province.

Much like the Salem witch trials, the burning of thousands of falsely accused people at the stake during the Middle Ages, and various untimely state sponsored deaths in the course of human history, many lasting myths and legends begin with an element of truth from a real situation (often somehow traced to the government of the day doing something stupid and ill-informed). The moral of this story? BC is no different. We have a dark, ruthless, and blood spilt past which is sure to make your skin crawl. The sheer death toll is enough to keep you up at night, leaving many to wonder – will the spirit of the wolf come to haunt the BC Legislature in years to come?

Bryce Casavant is a former B.C. Conservation Officer. He is a Doctoral Candidate at Royal Roads University. Bryce recently received fellowship with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for his work, In Search of a Wild Peace. He works as the Conservation Policy Analyst at Pacific Wild and writes from his home on Vancouver Island. You can reach Bryce at: bryce@pacificwild.org 

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