Results of a necropsy done on a fox killed at the Whitehorse airport last week show a single gunshot wound to the chest, along with blunt-force trauma to its chest and shoulder.
“Our employees were alerted to a fox on the runway, they went out, and in their normal process, tried to scare it with noise,” said Allan Nixon, assistant deputy minister of Highways and Public Works. “They tried blasting the horn. The fox would leave the runway and then he would come back out, so there was the decision that this met the criteria for, unfortunately, having to dispose of the animal and so they proceeded to go about that in the same manner that we normally do.
“They shot the fox once. It didn’t immediately kill it and so the employee that was driving the truck made the decision to go, drive up quickly – because he was concerned that the fox was suffering and he didn’t want it to get further away and be more difficult to kill. He used his foot. He tried to step on the fox’s neck and its upper shoulder area and press down and kill it.”
The incident faced public outcry after a letter, published in the Whitehorse Star and recounted on social media, claimed the employees tried to run over the fox and then kicked it to death.
Earlier this week, before the necropsy’s results, a spokesperson for the department would only say the animal was shot and then “dispatched.”
Two airport workers who witnessed the killing have approached the department with information. There is also video surveillance of the area, but the truck blocked the view, said Nixon.
“At the end of the day, this is an unfortunate and regrettable part of our business, but it’s done because we have a responsibility and we’re legally responsible to do it,” said Nixon. “If we want to operate an airport, we have to control wildlife on the airport property, plain and simple. We don’t have a choice. We have to do it.”
The laws are federal, enforced by Transport Canada, and the issue is widespread. Wildlife, including birds, is a problem for airports all across the country, said Nixon. There are tried and tested techniques and unfortunately, sometimes there is no other option than to kill the animal, he said.
Animals, even those as small as a fox, can be dangerous for the landing and takeoff of aircraft of any size. Even if the animal doesn’t get sucked into the turbines or caught under the wheels, there is a risk that the pilot could be distracted, and that could mean serious consequences, Nixon said.
Since last Thursday’s incident, staff at the airport and Highways and Public Works have received disturbing calls and comments.
“Some suggest that our employees be shot first and then beaten. I think some people that have phoned our administrative staff have suggested that they should be shot and hanged,” said Nixon. “We take it fairly seriously and it’s a little frightening for our employees, for sure.”
The RCMP hasn’t been involved at this point, said Nixon.
But he would like the public to realize that the employees who did this are the same guys who go out to shovel and clear the runway at any time, every day to ensure Yukoners and their families can take off and land safely.
“These are the guys that are making sure you’re safe and this is part of that job,” he said. “It’s the lousy part of the job. It’s the part they don’t like. We don’t like having to do it, but at some point, it has to happen, or you have to find some solution. Sometimes, it happens. And at that airport, people are feeding (the animals). This fox was being fed. He was habituated. He wasn’t afraid of the truck, he wasn’t afraid of the truck blowing its horn. He wasn’t afraid and he just kept going back.”
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