Manitoba government changes rules after 'Bambi' killed at Hutterite colony

WINNIPEG – The Manitoba government has established new rules for its wildlife officers after a friendly deer was shot and killed in front of shocked residents at a Hutterite colony.

Officers will now be allowed to use tranquilizer guns on animals other than black bears and must only destroy wild critters as a last resort — and out of public view.

The changes came into effect this month after Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh ordered a review of the February shooting at the Windy Bay Colony in the province’s southwest.

Colony members found a white-tailed fawn shortly after he was born last year. They affectionately named him Bambi and hand-fed him fresh-baked bread and sweet tea. He often played with children and pet dogs and once showed up for a church service.

But when the young buck started growing antlers, a concerned member called the wildlife department.

Two officers determined the deer had become too habituated to be released back into the forest and, after some wrangling in an attempt to catch him, they shot him on a colony street. Some residents watched in horror from their windows.

At the time, Mackintosh called the officers’ actions “insensitive.”

“How it was done and where it was done was really the issue,” conservation manager Jack Harrigan explained Tuesday. “It was recognized they did use poor judgment. And so, since that event, they’ve been given direction and education and they’ll be given further training as well.”

He said his department was overdue for an overhaul of its policies, since any written rules that could be found dealt only with bears. An extensive list of protocols are now on the books for all animals, consistent with Canadian Council on Animal Care guidelines.

“Everyone’s entitled to understand what their roles are and what their job is and what the department expects of them. And when directions aren’t written down or procedures aren’t understood, then it leaves way too much to personal interpretation.”

Harrigan said staff must now follow a procedure to determine whether an animal should be destroyed. Senior officers must be notified. Wildlife biologists must be consulted on the animal’s chances of rehabilitation.

If it can’t be returned to the wild or sent to a sanctuary, it can be destroyed, but it should be captured and killed off site, if possible.

“It’s not an easy job,” said Harrigan. “Officers, as a rule, don’t enjoy having to put something down. It’s part of the whole wildlife management scheme and the job that we’re tasked to do.

“That’s the last option.”

Tranquilizers were previously approved for use only on bears, but can now be used on deer, elk and moose. Harrigan said the province’s 112 officers will soon have access to 21 tranquilizer gun kits and more will be added over time.

They will also get updated training on how to use the kits.

Further, when a person reports abandoned or injured wildlife, staff will have to make sure they advise callers to leave the animals where they found them. It often appears animals are orphaned, but their parents usually return to get them, Harrigan explained.

People think they’re helping but they’re “accidentally kidnapping” animals and increasing the likelihood that they can’t be returned to the wild, he said.

Last year, a man from St. Malo, Man., rescued a dying bear cub from the side of a road and took him home. Rene Dubois called wildlife officers for help but was told the cub would be destroyed.

Officers seized the bear, named Makoon, days later after he became a local celebrity. After a public outcry, Makoon and another rescued cub were flown to a remote location and released.

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton