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ISSUES & ALERTS - Raccoon Rabies in Ontario
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Raccoon Rabies
  OMNR raccoon slaughter denounced as Ontario's shame
Raccoon in cage, Credit: Mitch Smith

One of the methods the OMNR has used to control raccoon rabies since 1999 is 'depopulation', a highly controversial approach whereby all rabies vector species such as raccoons, skunks and foxes are killed within a 5-kilometers radius of a positive case.  These activities have resulted in the killing of over 9,700 animals, 99.8% of which turned out to be healthy.

In the News

Natural Resources rabies programme scam uncovered by wildlife rehabilitators
Deadly for wildlife!
Abusive of taxpayers dollars!
Puts human and wildlife health at risk!
February 14, 2005: For the last 4 years the Ministry of Natural Resources has persecuted wildlife rehabilitation organizations in Ontario allegedly to “…protect human health from the deadly disease of rabies” and the health of wildlife populations.  Press release.

Wildlife groups not wild about Trent DNA plan
Activist blasts focus on rabies research; project chief says work will be varied

Feb. 11, 2005: The Peterborough Examiner - Environmentalists have launched an attack on Trent University's planned DNA research facility, saying it will be a vacuum that sucks money away from other important initiatives. Full story.

DNA Cluster project under attack
Rabies boondoggle threatens to create white elephant at Trent University

Feb. 10, 2005: Peterborough, Ont. - Wildlife organizations across Ontario have teamed up with Trent University students and concerned residents to demand an immediate halt to the proposed new DNA research building at Trent University. The Ontario Wildlife Coalition and the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) say the controversial project is threatening to wipe out responsible wildlife rehabilitation across the province, while saddling the university with an expensive “white elephant” that will siphon scarce financial resources from more pressing academic priorities. Press release.

Rabies program money needs to be better spent
Aug. 24, 2004 Letter Arnprior Chronicle  Read letter

Fur flies on euthanasia in rabies fight
June 29, 2004 The Globe and Mail - To animal-rights activists and environmentalists, they're the cute, furry critters that comb through your garbage at night in search of a tasty treat. To the government agencies charged with the responsibility of controlling the spread of rabies, raccoons represent a major threat to public health and safety.  The fur has been flying between the two groups for years over the controversial practice of "depopulation," or trapping and then killing raccoons found within five kilometres of a positive rabies case. Full story.

Ottawa City council seeks return to progressive wildlife service
Ottawa, June 23, 2004 – The City of Ottawa will ask the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) to restore wildlife rehabilitation services, while ending a controversial rabies program that has resulted in the killing of more than 9,700 animals across Eastern Ontario over the past four years. Brain tissue tests later revealed that 99.8% of these animals were healthy. Press release.

Reality check on rabies
June 15, 2004 Ottawa Citizen - To describe Ontario's raccoon rabies program as a "phenomenal success" is to overlook the facts ("Province renews raccoon rabies control program," June 6). Just three days earlier, this same program came under attack from Ottawa's health, recreation and social services committee.  Full story.

Ontario government calls for scientific review of rabies-raccoon program
June 11, 2004 Kanata Kourier-Standard - The Ontario government should scrap its “depopulation” raccoon-rabies program and license wildlife centres to treat animals possibly infected with the disease, recommends a city committee report. Full story.

Time to tame spending on fighting rabies in wild animals
May 28/04 The Globe and Mail - While hospitals and governments struggle to provide front-line medical care and combat serious health threats such as SARS and West Nile, one Ontario government department is spending millions of dollars to battle a disease that ranks near the bottom of human health risks: rabies. Full story.

OMNR raccoon slaughter denounced as Ontario's shame
June 16/03  OMNR slaughter of thousands of raccoons is costly, ineffective, inhumane way to control rabies.  Read press release.

Raccoon Rabies Backgrounder

If there is cynicism about the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources raccoon rabies control programme, it is not without reason. Over the last ten years, this program has cost Ontario taxpayers millions of dollars. Using an oral vaccine delivered through aerial drops, Ohio has become the “best practices” model in North America.

Since the artic fox strain of rabies has also been successfully contained in Ontario through the oral baiting method, it leads one to question why the MNR is using the much more costly and controversial point-infection control (PIC) where over 9,700 raccoons, skunks and foxes have been killed in the last few years with almost all (99.8%) turning out to be healthy animals.  Millions more has been spent by the federal government in the unnecessary testing of these animals.

Rabies in Ontario - Summary

  • In July 2002, in spite of just six remaining cases of raccoon rabies, contained in a very small area and moving much further away from Ottawa, the MNR expanded the high-risk area to include the City. The Ministry’s justification for the expansion, that there were new cases moving closer to Ottawa, was shown to be entirely false and challenged by Liberal opposition members, the media, Ottawa councillors and even a Conservative government Minister at the time.
  • However, several months later, after the announcement of a major research grant, the disease made a dramatic shift in direction and an equally unusual jump of 50 kilometers. It certainly raises unanswered question about why cases of raccoon rabies had almost tripled in the first two quarters of 2003 over 2002 and were, at that time, moving toward Ottawa.
  • A letter was sent to Ottawa councilors and area MPP’s relaying concern and urging that a thorough investigation be carried out if a case of raccoon rabies was to be found in the City along with the message that there would be strong public opposition to the use of depopulation. The letter was sent in June 2003.  It is interesting to note that the last case of raccoon rabies was reported in eastern Ontario just a few weeks later on June 30th.
  • The Ministry has failed to provide a clear assessment of the point infection control (PIC) programme but when asked, claim that the programme has been a success.  However, the Ministry appears to be planning for more cases of raccoon rabies as the major research grant referenced above is dependent on significant raccoon samples from depopulation areas.  If the programme is such a success and if raccoon rabies is under control, it begs the question why such an extensive research programme would be necessary.  Could it be that in the face of increased competition from serious human risk diseases like West Nile, SARS and BSE, the MNR has to maintain the public profile on raccoon rabies to ensure the extensive funds allocated to its research.
  • The unwarranted public funding directed to the MNR raccoon rabies program has diverted badly-needed support for basic health and social programs in our communities. Why is it that growing public funds are directed to the study of a disease that constitutes the lowest public health risk in North America? There has been only one human death from raccoon rabies in the fifty years since the disease was discovered and in spite of thousands of positive-tested animals in densely human populated areas.

Municipal Impacts:

  • The Ministry’s raccoon rabies program has been accompanied by regressive regulations that prevent wildlife rehabilitators from accepting raccoons, skunks and foxes, forcing the general public to care for wildlife and greatly increasing the risk to themselves, their children and pets. The public are told to turn these animals over to the Ministry who will kill them.  When faced with such an option people usually refuse to hand the animals over, and in the face of this obvious problem, the Ministry claims that Ontarians will not break the law.  More on the wildlife rehab crisis in Ontario.
  • The Ministry has effectively poisoned the relationship with many wildlife rehabilitators in Ontario, destroyed by the Ministry’s heavy handed approach to rehabilitation.  This has resulted in the caring of sick and injured wildlife by inexperienced people.  Under the current situation, the Ministry has no idea how many sick animals are involved, where they came from and how and where they will be released if they survive.  The seizure of raccoons from the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre has generated concern from members of the public about the safety of turning wildlife over to other wildlife centres still in operation, worried that their animals may be seized as well. In contrast, almost all U.S. states, with many more years of experience in dealing with raccoon rabies, have long acknowledged the important role that experienced wildlife rehabilitators play in the fight against wildlife diseases.
  • By eliminating progressive help for the public with respect to wildlife, the MNR has effectively downloaded costs to municipal governments, veterinarians and humane societies, forcing them to respond in a purely reactive way and creating a great deal of frustration and anger on the part of the community.
  • There was no advance consultation with municipalities and/or health departments about the implications of these changes in the regulations. In fact, an MNR document received through public access, identifies that the announcement of these changes would be withheld so as “to prevent any pre-emption in the media from any of the affected stakeholders”.  Ottawa City councilors, for example, received notice on the day the changes went into effect.
  •  The Ministry’s regressive regulations are now impacting communities across the province through the loss of wildlife rehabilitation services. Many wildlife rehabilitators who have taken years to develop volunteer programmes with the community’s involvement, have been forced to close.  While in Opposition, Liberal members presented almost 9,000 signatures to the government from over 260 municipalities in Ontario urging changes to the MNR regulations which have eliminated responsible and humane help for wildlife in Ontario.
  • The Liberal government has promised a review of the MNR raccoon rabies program. We are urging them to fulfill this commitment as soon as possible by carrying out an independent risk analysis evaluation of the program, something that has obviously not been done since the program commenced more than ten years ago.


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