In Canada, caribou herds are declining, in part, environmental groups say, because of tar-sands development. The Canadian government’s response? Kill the wolves.

The country’s plan, which involves poison bait and Sarah Palin’s favorite sport — shooting wolves from planes — is meant “to balance what civilization has developed,” in the words of Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of Environment. If human development is killing off caribou by destroying their habitat, the thinking goes, there need to be fewer wolves to eat the remaining ones.

The poison bait is a particularly gruesome and archaic weapon. The poison in question is strychnine, which has been used since the 1600s to deal with vermin. It kills quickly but dramatically — dramatically enough that, as science writer Deborah Blum points out, Agatha Christie used it as the murder weapon of choice in her first book. In the novel, Blum writes, “the woman is found to be suffering from horrible convulsions, one of which “lifted her from the bed, until she appeared to rest upon her head and her heels, with her body arched in a most extraordinary manner.” Sounds brutal. Too bad there is NO OTHER POSSIBLE WAY to save the caribou.

Oh wait. The National Wildlife Federation is arguing that a better approach to managing the country’s natural resources might be to restore caribou habitat. Preserving wildlife by killing fewer animals, instead of more? It’s so crazy it just might work.

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