Intentional Poisoning of Skunks and Red Fox Results in Conviction in Saskatchewan


In December of 2011, two dead skunks were found in a fenced bee hive enclosure and a dead red fox was found close by with no signs of struggle or injury. Chicken eggs were also found at the site. Together these findings made the Saskatchewan Environment Conservation Officer investigating these mortalities suspicious that these animals had been poisoned. The skunks, fox, eggs and some honey frames were submitted to the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre, Western Northern Region for autopsies and toxicological evaluation. The autopsies revealed trauma and infectious disease were not the cause of death and the only significant findings were the presence of eggs shells within the stomach content of the skunks. Poisoning by either strychnine or an insecticide (cholinesterase inhibitor) was suspected. Toxicological analysis revealed that the brain cholinesterase activity was dramatically reduced and a large quantity of carbofuran was identified in the eggs.

Carbofuran, a potent neurotoxin, is a pesticide that interferes with the transmission of messages in the nervous system of insects, birds, and animals. Affected animals have difficulty moving, eventually are paralyzed and go on to die if a toxic dose of the chemical is ingested. Secondary poisoning, where the animal or bird scavenges the carcass of an animal that has consumed the original bait, is also common. Often dead bald eagles are found within close proximity to coyotes, the latter killed by an insecticide laden bait and the former scavenging the coyote carcass. The term “circle of death” is used to describe the position of carcasses of multiple species radiating from the central point source of the poison.

Thorough investigation by the conservation officer with attention to chain of custody documentation, other legal requirements and laboratory confirmation of cause of death resulted in the bee hive operator pleading guilty to the charges and receiving a $770 fine. Under the Wildlife regulations section 7(2)(c)(i), no person, without a license for the purpose, can use poisons for the destruction or capture of wildlife. The operator also violated the Pest Control Products Act, administered by HealthCanada, by using carbofuran in a way that was not registered or intended.

The goal of these regulations are to protect wildlife, domestic animals and people from careless and inappropriate use of these potent poisons and the fines are established  to penalize individuals or companies, that do not conform to these regulations. The laboratory cost associated with this case was approximately $700. Perhaps passing these fees onto the perpetrators of the crimes may provide further incentive to modify their agricultural operations. In addition, money spent on educating the public on viable, biologically sound, methods of “pest” control could significantly reduce the long-term monetary and animal welfare costs of these types of poisonings.

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