The discovery of several dead birds of prey near Black Diamond has area residents concerned.
Dr. Judith Samson-French, veterinarian and founder of Banded Peak Veterinary Hospital, took notice of local birds acting strangely in the last week or so, and even found evidence of dead bald eagles, hawks, and great horned owls in the area.
On Sunday, she was able to intervene and save a bald eagle that looked to be in pretty bad shape.
"A coyote walked right by that eagle, no problem. I thought 'oh, maybe the eagle has a ground squirrel and it's going to dispute it,' and the coyote did a u-turn, came right back to the eagle, grabbed it by the head, shook it, and let it go. The eagle was not able to fly and obviously, when the coyote came, didn't go into defense mode. Obviously, the eagle was quite weakened."
When she went over to inspect it, she found that it was still alive.
Dr. Samson-French contacted the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation and was able to transport the eagle to them, where it's now recovering.
She quickly tied these strange occurrences to poison, having heard of widespread deaths from rodent poison among eagles in the U.S.
The area, like many areas of rural Alberta, has a large ground squirrel population, and it was soon determined that one of the residents had used some form of poison in order to quell the rodents' numbers.
A ban on strychnine to control ground squirrels went into effect in Alberta as of May 2022, though other rodenticides are still available.
Dr. Samson-French says raptors are known to scavenge, and with their main source of food having ingested poison, ripples in the ecosystem were quickly apparent.
"We would have up to four or five eagles a day on posts there and up to 12 hawks a day. My concern going forward is that a lot more of them are going to eat poisoned ground squirrels, and we're going to have more birds of prey going down, and if we have more birds of prey going down, that means the ground squirrel population can keep getting bigger and bigger, so we keep messing up with the prey/predator chain. We have to be more mindful, we have to be better stewards of the land than to put indiscriminate poison down."
She fears poison could also be ingested by other predators including weasels, badgers, and coyotes.
According to Dr. Samson-French, RCMP and Alberta Fish & Wildlife got involved, and all of the poison traps in the area were removed.
Another area resident, Rachel Toon, fears for her own domestic animals.
"Until this is resolved until I feel more comfortable again, I'm not going to let my dogs walk around my acreage anymore. I'm just restraining them into the backyard because I can't trust what they're going to be picking up. My dogs catch gophers weekly. To think there are gophers in the area that are riddled with poison, I mean, it'll kill them, and there'd be nothing you could do."
Toon documented her and her neighbours' findings in a Facebook post, which was shared to a few local groups and was pleased to see a pretty positive reaction, with other Foothills residents seeming to take the message to heart.
She says she's not a fan of gophers by any means, but people have to be careful when introducing something into any ecosphere.
"It's beautiful where we live, we're so lucky. We are part of the ecosystem, so many people think we're above it; we're not above it, we're meant to be part of it, and we have to play fair."