Wolves, seals, kangaroos, & other scapegoats for economic failure
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2003:
ANCHORAGE, ST. JOHN’S, LIMA,
SYDNEY–Political strategy in response to
economic stress in Third World dictatorships
often includes declaring a rabies crisis and
putting troops on the streets to intimidate the
public by shooting dogs.
In the underdeveloped democratic nations
the strategy varies. Instead of sending out
soldiers, armed citizens are authorized to vent
their frustration by shooting whatever animals
are most easily blamed.
In Atlantic Canada this spring the
“scapegoats” are seals, accused of keeping cod
stocks low, though there is little serious
scientific doubt that overfishing during the
1980s caused the cod population to crash.
In Australia, kangaroos are the
“scapegoats.” They even thrive like goats amid
dry conditions that kill sheep.
In Alaska, both troops and armed citizens are sent out to kill wolves.
The wolves, as political cartoons indicate,
are surrogates for environmentalists.
Environmentalists have for years
prevented the oil drilling in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge that many Alaskans hope will
restore the boom times of the 1970s and early
1980s, when the North Slope oil was just
beginning to flow through the newly completed
Alaska pipeline, every Alaskan-born resident
collected royalties, and there was giddy talk
about Alaskans never again having to pay state
taxes. Some even suggested seccession from the
U.S. to become the imagined Saudi Arabia of the
North, complete with a strongly male-dominated
society and imported harems. Alaska flexed a
self-image as last bastion of rugged
frontiersmen, ignoring the reality that even
with the oil income, it was in effect a state on
welfare, heavily dependent upon federal jobs and
Bold entrepreneurship was and is a much
stronger tradition among the much despised
funders of environmentalism in the balmy Silicon
Valley of California.
Since shooting enviros is not legal even
in Alaska, Alaskans left out of work by the
present weakness of logging, mining, and
fishing clamor for dead wolves instead.
Wolves are among the icons of
environmentalism, they kill moose and caribou in
competition with human hunters, and because they
have fangs they enable those who pursue them with
aircraft and snow machines to pretend they are a
dangerous foe–although more Alaskans die by
falling off their snow machines while blind drunk
each year than the sum of all humans killed by
wild wolves in the recorded history of North
Newly elected Alaska Governor Frank
Murkowski, formerly a four-term U.S. Senator,
made his fortune in pulp and timber. As a
politician he favored logging over all other
industries. As overcut wood reserves ran short,
he devoted much of his final Senate term to
trying to log federally protected old growth in
the Tongass National Forest. His environmental
and economic short-sightedness contributed much
to present Alaskan unemployment–but he was swept
into the highest Alaskan office in part because
he promised to reverse predecessor Tony Knowles’
policy of attempting to minimize wolf-culling.
Murkowski’s first action as Governor was
to appoint his daughter Lisa to finish his Senate
term. He then appointed six outspoken proponents
of wolf-culling to serve on the Alaska Board of
Game, the state wildlife policymaking body.
“While Governor Murkowski didn’t come
right out and say it, the underlying message was
clear: game management in Alaska will be geared
toward hunters and trappers, not tourists,”
wrote Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Tim
Updated Mowry on February 12, “The
Alaska Department of Fish and Game will begin
killing wolves and moving bears from
moose-deprived areas around McGrath as early as
March 15ŠWildlife biologists are proposing to
remove all the wolves from a 520-square-mile area
around McGrath and neighboring villages to
increase the number of moose available for local
Under the plan, about 30 wolves would be strafed from helicopters.
In other early actions as Governor,
Murkowski asked Interior Secretary Gail Norton to
halt reviewing Alaskan habitat for potential
protection as roadless wilderness, and
transferred responsibility for issuing permits to
alter wildlife habitat from the state Department
of Fish and Game to the Depart-ment of Natural
Resources, effective April 15 pending an
unlikely legislative override.
“The governor’s plan to streamline
permitting can only make things better for the
timber industry,” enthused Alaska Forest
Association representative Owen Graham.
The first effect of the move was expected
to be putting 20 more Alaskans out of work:
those who constitute the Alaska DFG permit
Did someone say, “Let them eat moose?”
Despite the purported moose shortage,
widely blamed on wolves but more accurately
attributed to changes in vegetation patterns
associated with global warming, the DFG this
winter started a two-year experimental
authorization of moose calf hunting.
Mowry explained that calves were targeted
because last year the Alaska DFG decided that the
moose population lacks sufficient antlered bulls,
as a legacy of years of trophy hunting, to
impregnate all the females. Therefore fewer
permits were issued for bull moose. Because
hunters then complained that not shooting bulls
deprived them of needed moose meat, the Alaska
DFG issued by lottery 274 permits to hunt calves.
That “raised a ruckus in the hunting
community,” Mowry wrote. “Many hunters were
adamantly opposed to a calf hunt and some went so
far as to apply for permits in hopes they would
draw one and not use it, a tactic used by animal
rights activists in Alaska for several years” to
thwart bear hunting.
Among the first 231 permit holders who
were polled, Mowry continued, only 32 actually
killed a calf, while 97 did not hunt.
Getting antlers, not meat, was for many
moose hunters clearly the major issue –whether
or not they admitted it.
Refugees from change
The cold, wet, Alaska-like climate of
Atlantic Canada and the parched Outback of
Australia were both settled by refugees from the
enclosure of former common grazing land and the
coming of the Industrial Revolution in the
British Isles. The settlers in Atlantic Canada
were mostly displaced tenant farmers, while the
first Australian settlers were mostly
ex-city-dwellers who had been convicted of petty
crimes or nonpayment of debts, but they had in
common an inability to adapt to the first major
economic transition of modern times.
Relocated to habitat where pursuing a
traditional resource-based economy was still
possible, each repeated the ancient pattern of
stripping and depleting one source of abundance
after another until their lifestyle could no
longer be sustained.
In Atlantic Canada that meant
exterminating or extirpating the great whales,
the Great Auk, and many other seabird species,
before the cod ran out.
In Australia, native species of all
sorts were destroyed to make room for sheep,
cattle, and rabbits, introduced to be hunted
after marsupial prey became scarce. Since then,
whenever cattle and sheep destroy the
ecologically fragile arid grasslands, rangers
blame the rabbits and, even more, the resurgent
kangaroos, who evolved to thrive there despite
the often harsh conditions.
Ecological understanding and traditional
resource-based economies rarely mix, but
Atlantic Canadian fishers and Australian sheep
ranchers have a strong grasp of small-town
politics, in nations where small towns hold
disproportionate Parliamentary clout and
typically no one party is strong enough to form a
government without building a coalition. Though
the fishers and sheep ranchers long since ceased
to be the major contributors to their nations’
economies that they once were, they still form
potent voting blocks on behalf of the elected
representatives who do the most to shield them
from finally having to make the transition away
from a resource-based economy that their
immigrant forebears avoided circa 200 years ago.
During the 1980s politically appointed
directors of the Canadian Department of Fisheries
and Oceans placated Atlantic Canada by
consistently endorsing overestimates of the cod
stock, essentially presuming cod numbers were up
if more cod were caught.
Similar math contributed to the decline
of Atlantic salmon, whose spawning habitat was
hard-hit by acid rain, and to diminishing
numbers of almost every other species fished or
hunted in the region.
Now harp seals are the only species that
the DFO can allow anyone to kill in growing
numbers, based on a claim of abundance. The DFO
claims the Atlantic Canada harp seal population
is at an all-time recorded high count of 5.2
Record seal quota
Based on that estimate, the DFO set a
2002 sealing quota of 275,000. Then, when pelt
prices proved to be unexpectedly high due to
Chinese demand, the DFO allowed the toll to soar
up to 307,000–the most seals killed since 1966.
The killing was easier than usual because
relatively little ice formed on the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, obliging mother seals and their
nursing pups to congregate more densely than they
International Fund for Animal Welfare
senior science advisor David Levigne and Duke
University Marine Laboratory scientists David
Johnston, Leigh Torres, and Ari Friedlander
warned on January 16 that the DFO is misreading
“Ice cover in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
and off Newfoundland has been significantly
reduced in six of the last seven years,” the
Beyond meaning that 307,000 seals were more
easily found and killed last year, the ice
shortage may mean that fewer seals were born
where they had a chance of survival.
“In the past few years,” Levigne
outlined via publicist Katy Heath-Eves, “IFAW
has observed first-hand the reduction of ice in
the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In some years the ice
melted and broke up prematurely. Thousands of
nursing pups were separated from their mothers
Levigne estimated that a prudent sealing quota
would be no higher than 50,000.
Otherwise the population might appear to
be stable for several years despite low pup
survival, and then plummet.
Twelve days later the DFO set the 2003
sealing quota at 975,000 over the next three
years, not to exceed 350,000 in any one year.
This is the highest quota ever set. In only a
few years did sealers kill more, even before
quotas were introduced.
Fisheries and Oceans minister Robert
Thibault claimed that even if the entire quota
was killed, the 2006 harp seal population would
still be 4.7 million.
Responded Lavigne, “The Minister of
Fisheries and Oceans is making critical
management decisions without taking into account
the best available science and changing
environmental factors that are already ringing
alarms in other government departments.”
Lavigne has also produced evidence that
up to 42% of the seal pups killed in Atlantic
Canada are still alive when skinned. Canadian
politicians have not wanted to hear that, either.
“The problem now,” said Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society founder Paul Watson, “is
that the international public and even the
Canadian public believes that the slaughter of
baby harp seals was ended years ago,” due to the
moratorium on the offshore hunt that was in
effect from 1985 to 1994.
“The Canadian media downplay the cruelty
and the waste, and the Canadian government has
made it a crime to photograph, film, or witness
the seal kill. We need to rejuvenate this
campaign. This is the single largest mass
slaughter of a marine mammal species in the
world, and it is being ignored.”
Watson himself was on almost the opposite
side of the world when the quota was announced,
trailing the Japanese whaling fleet off
Antarctica. About all he could do from there was
start assembling an e-mail list of potential
protesters, expecting to gather about 6,000
names before the killing actually starts.
Stellar sea lions
Blaming marine mammals for a fish
scarcity is hardly unique to Atlantic Canada,
but only Norway, Russia, and Namibia allow
comparable commercial seal hunts, and none of
them have permitted the massacre of even a
fraction as many seals, if only because none
have as many in the first place.
There is a recent precedent for a piniped
population crash which may have been caused by
killing to reduce a purported threat to fish
populations, documented in a December 2002 U.S.
National Academy of Sciences report on the causes
of an 80% decline in the Stellar sea lion
population over the past 30 years.
The report identified eight
possibilities, including destruction of the sea
lion food supply by overfishing, and also
predation by orca whales and sharks, who have
turned to hunting seals, sea lions, and sea
otters because the large fish they would prefer
to hunt are depleted.
The investigators found that no one cause
of the Stellar sea lion crash seemed to be more
clearly responsible than the others, but added
that the effects of deliberate killing appear to
have been underestimated.
Between 1963 and 1972 more than 45,000
sea lion pups were killed under government
contract in the Aleutians and the Gulf of Alaska,
the investigators discovered. Many of these
animals would have been part of the breeding
population during the first decade of the
Poaching off Peru
A parallel example may have occurred
within Paracas National Reserve, 140 miles south
of Lima, Peru.
For about 20 years the Peruvian natural
resources agency, called Inrena, has been
officially puzzled by the decline of the Paracas
sea lion population. About 2,500 sea lions
shared the reserve with Humboldt penguins and
other sea birds circa 1980. There are now half
as many sea lions, and the count is still
falling, four years after Peru belatedly made
sea lions a protected species.
Inrena inspectors on September 28
discovered the remains of 147 sea lion bulls on
one of the San Gallan islands within the reserve,
noted that their genitals had been removed, and
said nothing about it. Supposedly this was in
hopes that they might pick up loose talk about
the local fishers that might enable
identification of the killers.
Word of the massacre at last reached news
media in January. Congressional environment
commission chair Fabiola Morales initiated an
investigation, concerned that the removal of the
genitals might indicate the involvement of “a
The case confirmed what the small
Peruvian animal advocacy community has been
saying, to little notice, for some time.
Stefan Austermuhle, executive director
of the Peruvian marine mammal defense group Mundo
Azul, told ANIMAL PEOPLE that the sea lion
massacre was “only the tip of the iceberg. The
illegal killing of sea lions by Peruvian fishers
who see the animals as competitors is common,”
“According to surveys conducted by Mundo
Azul in fishing communities, 70% of the fishers
oppose sea lion conservation,” Austermuhle
continued, “and most are of the opinion that sea
lions should be killed.”
Carlos Yaipén-Llanos, president of Organization
for Research and Conservation of Animals: Marine
Mammals, recently found that fishers often blame
sea lions for shortages of fish caused by the El
Niño climatic phenomenon. The poorly educated
fishers have little or no understanding of how El
Niño affects water temperatures and currents,
nor of how the changes affect the species they
“A series of necropsies performed by the
scientific staff of ORCAMM on the dead sea lions
and fur seals found on South American beaches
revealed that 62.5% presented signs of human
impact such as gunshots, fractures, or
poisoning,” Yaipén-Llanos added. More than 70%
of the dead were males, probably poached for
Dolphins are also still hunted along the
Peruvian coast, despite official claims that
this has been halted, Austermuhle testified.
“At one beach in northern Lambayeque,
members of Mundo Azul found more than 20 dolphins
killed for human consumption in a single day,”
Austermuhle recounted. “On another beach, south
of Chimbote, within one week three dolphins who
had been cut into pieces washed ashore. The
problem is not restricted to hard-to-control
isolated beaches. Last September,” Austermuhle
said, “we had the case of a dolphin found on the
beach at Pucusana, five meters from the fishing
dock and 50 meters from the office of the port
authorities. This shows,” Austermuhle charged,
“that the killing of dolphins is still seen as a
peccadillo” by the authorities who are supposed
to stop it.
On February 8 Austermuhle e-mailed that
10 dolphins had been butchered in the preceding
four days aboard vessels just offshore at Playa
Pulpos, near Lima. The killing and butchering
were witnessed by numerous tourists and local
The police tried to intervene, said
Captain Juan Torres Diaz, chief criminal
investigator in the district, but “We don’t have
boats,” he told Austermuhle. “We don’t even
have binoculars. We stood on the beach switching
on our sirens and yelling.”
Diaz called Mundo Azul and found a
private citizen who tried unsuccessfully to
approach the dolphin killers with a jet-ski.
In the end all anyone could do was collect the evidence.
Having little industry based on maritime
resource extraction, Australia and New Zealand
have long been among the most ardent champions of
Australian environment minister David
Kemp on February 6 continued that record by
filing a formal protest against the readmission
of Iceland to the International Whaling
Commission, after Icelandic prime minister David
Oddsson announced on January 17 that Iceland will
follow Japan in doing “research whaling,”
beginning in 2006.
Oddsson announced that Iceland will
resume whaling while in Tokyo seeking economic
investment and foreign aid.
Japan during the past decade has often
economically assisted many other island nations
in quid-pro-quo for political support in tryng to
resume commercial whaling and thwart further
international protection of ocean species and
Much as Canadian and Peruvian fishers
blame seals and sea lions for depleted fisheries,
Japan Fisheries Agency chief Masayuki Komatsu
blames minke whales, whom he calls “cockroaches
of the sea.”
That offends many Australians. But
Japanese donors heavily support several charities
dedicated to protecting charismatic Australian
wildlife, and are equally offended and perplexed
that many Australians regard kangaroos as
“cockroaches of the Outback.”
“The Outback Sea”
If “the ocean is a desert with its life
underground,” as Massachusetts environmentalist
Don Henley sang during his earlier career as a
rock star, the arid Outback is conversely much
like an ocean: a vast habitat of great
biodiversity, which nonetheless cannot sustain
the present intensity of human use.
The worst drought in decades hit
Australia in mid-2002–and hit from Queensland to
Western Australia all at once. Aerial surveys
showed ecological damage to 96% of New South
Wales in October, and 99% by mid-November.
Grain crops failed, sheep and cattle
ranchers lost stock as grasslands dried out and
were trampled to dust, and grain scarcity sent
food prices soaring.
Overall, the Australian economy managed
2% growth in 2002, as industries other than
those based directly on use of the land held
their own, but this was less than half the
growth rate of previous years.
The hard times were shared by many
species. Wildfires, for instance, killed
countless koalas, brush possums, and sugar
gliders. Nancy Small of Waterways Wildlife Park
in Gunneda, who was among thousands of
Australians actively trying to relieve the
misery, told Frank Walker of the Sydney Morning
Herald in December 2002 that she had never
handled so many animals in need before in all her
37 years of wild animal rehab work.
Staff at the Healesville Sanctuary in
Victoria state told Tony Chambers of the
Melbourne Age that their workload increased 25%
during 2002, and that 65% of the animals they
treated were heat-stressed birds.
The attempted rescues were at times
exercises in sheer exhaustion, despair, and
frustration. Staff and firefighters who in
January 2003 tried to save the animals at the
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra were
offered psychological counseling after the
fast-moving blaze killed 31 of 35 resident
brush-tailed rock wallabies, 11 of 15 freckled
ducks, 99 of 110 red and grey kangaroos, 20
koalas, and one corroboree frog.
The same fire left more than 200 dogs and
cats homeless and wandering, along with about
The fires put much previous work in
jeopardy. The Western Australia Department of
Conservation and Land Management, for instance,
reintroduced 40 rare western swamp tortoises to
the wild near Gingin in 2000. Of the 11 who had
radio transmitters, five were killed by fire in
Australian Platypus Conservancy biologist
Geoff Williams noted that the drought put
platypuses at high risk from predation by
lowering the levels of the streams where they
spend most of their time swmming underwater,
potentially undoing efforts to propagate
Fires in northeastern Victoria state and
Kosciuszko National Park killed about two-thirds
of the endangered corroborree spotted tree frog
population, leaving about 1,000 to try to live
and breed in ash-choked streams.
Animals who escaped the fires ran into
other problems, not always associated with
scarce food and cover.
For example, the failure of the monsoons
kept the male crocodiles of Queensland from
producing sperm and breeding. The crocs
generate sperm in response to thunder storms,
Koorana Crocodile Farm owner John Lever told
“In real terms, we are like any other
farmer,” Lever said. “If you don’t get rain,
you don’t get production.”
Lever said wild crocs would be equally affected.
Mallee fowl were unable to reproduce for a different reason.
“Early in the season, they rely on rain
to get the leaf-litter in their mouths fermenting
to produce the warmth to incubate their eggs.
Without the rain, they can’t get started,”
explained South Australia National Parks &
Wildlife ecologist Jodie Gates.
Even before the drought, James Cook
University tropical ecologist Chris Johnson
estimated in a report commissioned by the World
Wildlife Fund, deforestation and development
were killing 19,000 koalas and 115,000 possums
and gliders per year, chiefly in Queensland.
The drought just made everything worse.
“We have already destroyed 80% of the
tree cover in eastern Australia, and it is
likely that koala numbers have declined at the
same rate, possibly faster,” said University of
Queensland koala expert Frank Carrick.
Poisoning the wells
If misery loves company, sheep ranchers
and restoration biologists trying to preserve
native habitat had no shortage of opportunity to
appreciate and commiserate with the plights of
others. But sheep ranchers, clinging to their
traditional way of life, and restorationists,
trying to roll back biological succession and
evoluton, often showed markedly narrow empathy.
Northern Territory Parks & Wildlife
Service senior scientist Glenn Edwards told
anyone who would listen that feral dromedary
camels outnumber red kangaroos in much of the
Outback by as much as 100-to-1. Introduced to
Australia between 1840 and 1907, the dromedaries
now number 600,000 to 750,000, Edwards
estimates, predicting that they will reach 60
million eventually if 60,000 a year are not
culled. This would require killing or capturing
10 times as many as now.
New South Wales central west manager Nick
Rigby boasted of the ease of strafing feral
goats, pigs, and foxes during the drought, as
they gathered around water holes. Also in NSW,
Narrabri Rural Lands Protection Board ranger
Simon Oliver claimed to have shot 257 pigs from
the air in one week.
Wise-users in Tasmania fulminated over
the cancellation of a $30 million dam project in
the Great Western Tiers Conservation area,
ostensibly because it would have flooded the
homes of 12 spotted-tailed quolls.
Investigating that particular incident,
Simon Bevilacqua of the Hobart Mercury reported
on February 9 that the presence of the quolls was
actually just one among many reasons why the dam
will not be built.
The story continued to have legs,
however, among those who insisted that the lack
of water and green grass was somehow the fault of
But the greatest vitriol and most deadly
ammunition was aimed at kangaroos. Roos were even
tentatively targeted by one native species
restoration project, the Katarapko Community
Action Group, whose spokesperson Sandy Loffler
expressed dismay when the South Australian
National Parks and Wildlife department refused to
permit a cull.
The 2002 kangaroo quota for Australia,
exclusive of Victoria state, was 6.9 million.
Victoria prohibits commercial kangaroo hunting,
but Victoria farmers were authorized to kill more
than 91,000 kangaroos under depredation permits.
Irate that Premier Peter Beattie and
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson had not taken
“some action to stop us from being overrun and
pushed into debt by the kangaroo population,”
estimated at 38 million in Queensland alone, a
group of Queensland farmers in October invoiced
Beattie and Anderson for $2.1 million in grass
and water that they believed the 152,463
kangaroos on their property had consumed.
In Queensland, kangaroos outnumber sheep
by about 4-to-1. Yet the essential irrationality
of hating kangaroos as imagined rivals to sheep
was exposed the same week when Queensland police
arrested a rancher at Eromanga in the far
southwest for killing more than 100
kangaroos–along with emus, crows, galahs, and
some sheep–by poisoning a water trough. The
police were investigating several similar cases,
involving allegedly poisoned springs and ponds.
“One grazier actually advertised his
success and was inviting friends and neighbors to
come and inspect how effective his system was,”
a police officer told Tony Koch of the Brisbane
What sort of intelligence poisons his own wells in a drought?
Not the sort, one must suspect, that Darwinian selection would favor.