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Game farming is the domestication and commercial marketing of native and non-native wildlife for a variety of products, (including meat, hides, feathers, and antlers) or for paid hunting.

It is an industry designed to privatize and domesticate wild animals, to own and raise them for profit (Rowledge, 1991). Game farming involves intensive, small pasture production or extensive, wide range production of captive wild animals, and poses significant threats to non-game farm wildlife and conventional agriculture, such as the disruption of migratory patterns of wild animals through the installation of high fences, increased poaching as the sources of wildlife products become difficult to track, or by fostering diseases and parasites both within “livestock” populations, and to wild animals.

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    AWA’s Position

    AWA supports living wildlife economies that promote the conservation of wildlife populations in their natural environment and as a public resource. Living wildlife economies are economies that depend on living wildlife, such as camping, hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. AWA is opposed to the privatization, domestication and commercialization of wildlife, including game farming. 

    Game farming of wildlife is neither economically nor environmentally viable. It is antiethical to wildlife, our system of conservation and our living wildlife economies. Game farming brings costly problems such as disease, parasites, genetic pollution, habitat loss, and increased poaching. Game farming has no legitimate place within Alberta and should be phased out and prohibited by law. In line with this, the shooting of captive wildlife for a fee is considered to be an unethical and unacceptable method of hunting by AWA and various hunting and fishing groups in the province.

    Animals that have evolved in dispersed populations are especially susceptible to disease when kept in close proximity. Many of these diseases are transmissible to traditional livestock and to wild animals across fences, through flowing streams and through escaped animals. Although scientific and economic evidence indicated that game farming would have a negative impact on wildlife, would not be economically viable and would require government subsidization, the Alberta government legalized game farming in 1987 without a public review and without environmental or economic impact assessments.

    In recent years, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has generated tremendous media attention and public concern surrounding the game farm industry. CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalitis (TSE) of elk and deer, and is caused by a variant prion similar to that of the devastating Mad Cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). CWD is generally transmitted through body fluids, though research has indicated that prions may enter soil from diseased live animals and be preserved in soils. Currently, CWD is not able to transmit across species barriers, but both in-vitro and in-vivo experiments indicate that, while unlikely, transmission of CWD to humans may be possible.

    CWD was first found on several elk farms in Saskatchewan in 2001. Following this, 7,500 elk, 100 bison, 250 cattle and 50 white-tailed deer were destroyed. This cost at least $20 million in taxpayer compensation for destroyed animals, and more for cleanup and carcass disposal. The first case of CWD in Alberta was found in March 2002 on a farm in northern Alberta (Thomas, 2002). Since September 1, 2010 the Alberta government has tested nearly 4200 heads through their hunter surveillance program, and detected sixteen (0.4%) new cases of CWD in wild deer in Alberta. These statistics are unsettling and indicate that in Alberta, we are no closer to resolving this problem.

    Both currently and in the recent past, some Alberta game farm lobby groups have sought the authorization of penned “hunting” farms in order to diversify the economic opportunities available to those within the industry. The establishment of such operations has been actively opposed nationally by fish and game associations, farmers and ranchers, animal rights activists, conservationists, government officials, and concerned citizens. Advocates of this practice have suggested it as a way to maintain control of biological diversity and viability, through the creation of controlled environments for hunting to take place, as a way to discourage poaching, and as a way for disabled persons to hunt and to teach children how to hunt. In fact, the sole reason for offering this service is for profit.


    Test results from 2014 indicated 86 new cases of chronic wasting disease in 74 mule deer and 12 white-tailed deer.  Alberta game farms continue to struggle with chronic wasting disease outbreaks, including in elk.  The disease has recently been found in Hand Hills near Drumheller and in the Bow River drainage near Lake Newell.  In 2014, it is further entrenching along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.


    Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Management release information regarding 2012 chronic wasting disease testing. Preliminary results confirm CWD in twenty-four cervids inclusive of 19 mule deer, 4 white-tailed deer and one moose. This marks the first detection of CWD in moose in Canada.

    2011 March

     Updates to the Government of Alberta SRD website state that testing of heads from the 2010 fall hunting season is nearing completion. From September 1, 2010 to March 23, 2011, nearly 5062 wild deer heads were  tested, and 19 (0.4%) new cases of CWD have been detected in wild deer in AB. This brings the total number of detected CWD cases in wild deer in AB since Sept. 2005 to 94.

    Of significance, one positive yearling mule deer buck was found in the North Saskatchewan River valley in AB, which is strong evidence of recent expansion of the disease into the valley.

    2011 March

    In response to widespread public opposition to Bill 11, Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden assured the public that the province will amend the Bill to ensure no room is left for the establishment of hunting preserves. “We will be putting forward an amendment to clarify the position,” Hayden said. “There will be no hunt farms…That was the position of the government in 2002, and it has never changed, and it hasn’t changed today. There will be no hunt farms for deer or elk.”

    2011 March

     AWA and our team of Wilderness Defenders act to oppose proposed amendments to the Livestock Diversity Act. These amendments would reclassify “domestic cervids” as “diversified livestock”. As well, Section 10.1 of this act would enable the Minister to authorize activities that “would otherwise constitute a contravention of this Act”. This gives the Minister of Agriculture the power to allow penned “hunting” of farmed deer and elk on Alberta game farms. 


    An Alberta government news release states that “…12 new cases, along with an emaciated deer found in June, bring the total to 13 new cases of chronic wasting disease found in 2009.” In early 2010, AWA had written to Minister Mel Knight to request an update to the government’s official website and source of information about CWD as it had not been updated since 2005. AWA received no response but checking the website, saw that it was updated in June 2010 and now states that “The cumulative total of confirmed cases of CWD in wild deer in Alberta is 75.”

    2009 September

     According to a study published in the journal Nature the infectious agent which leads to CWD (called prions), are spread in the feces of infected animals long before the animal even becomes ill. Fecal-oral transmission is very effective, and explains the high rates of transmission among deer. This research also indicates that prions have the ability to bind to clay in soil and may persist for long period of time. This means there is very little chance that CWD will ever be eradicated. No evidence exists to indicate the prion that causes CWD can pass naturally to humans.

    2009 April

     Alberta government was once again approached with requests to allow hunting on game farms. This request occurred in response to a general economic decline in the game farming industry since 2002. Resource Minister Ted Morton expressed he was not interested in allowing hunting on game farms, and suggested the industry would have to be more convincing. 


     Wild boars are declared pests by province, legislation resulting from a year of consultation with municipalities and farmers throughout AB who have voiced concerns about boars. Wild boar populations are the result of escaped boars from game farms establishing reproducing populations. 


     Three cases of CWD found in wild deers in AB. AWA responds by, once again, asking the government to phase out wildlife domestication in AB by compensating game farmers.

    AWA also calls for the establishment of a scientifically sound procedure to deal with CWD in wild deer populations, as we consider the current management plan of deer culling unacceptable. 


     In conjunction with staff from Saskatchewan Environment, limited herd reduction was conducted in AB. From 1439 deer collected in AB, CWD was confirmed in 7 wild deer along the AB-Sask. border.


     More and more, the economic viability of the elk farming industry is being questioned. The value of breeding stock has plummeted, and elk-farmers are still shut out of the elk velvet market in the Far East due to CWD fears. To date, the fight against CWD in elk has cost $33 million to compensate farmers, mainly in Saskatchewan.

    2002 August

     The International Fund for Animal Welfare requested the RCMP expand its investigation into the alleged poaching of wildlife by game farmers. The call for immediate action came after new charges were laid in Canada’s largest poaching case in recent history. Saskatchewan veterinarian and game farmer John Phillip Murray faced 22 charges of fraud in provincial court for allegedly trapping and selling as many as 1,000 white-tailed deer over three years.


     Premier Ralph Klein speaks out strongly against proposed penned “hunting”operations, describing them as “abhorrent”. 

    2001 August

     AB elk and deer farmers lobby for amendments to provincial laws that would allow shooting in fenced enclosures of their domestic stock as a commercial venture. AWA, along with a coalition of hunting, conservationist, and animal rights interest groups, actively oppose such amendments. AWA considers such privatization and abuse of wildlife inhumane and unethical.

    2001 January

    Canada’s elk farming industry suffers a blow due to a Korean ban on imports of Canadian elk antler velvet. The ban was triggered by a BBC news story featuring the recent outbreak of CWD in Saskatchewan, where 14 positive cases on seven elk farms have been detected.  


     First report of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in a wild mule deer in Saskatchewan. CWD is a fatal degenerative disease of the brain that affects elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. It is more likely to occur where elk and deer live in crowded corridors, such as game farms.


     Soon-to-be Prime Minister Jean Chretien supports a public review of game ranching because “we agree that game farming has potentially wide-reaching implications that have never been subject to thorough public discussion”.  


     Dr. Valerius Geist, then professor of environmental studies and biology at the University of Calgary, warns it is inevitable that tuberculosis-infected elk will escape from captivity, and act as the “disease bridge” between livestock and wild animals. “We know animals are going to escape and mingle with those in the wild,” said Geist.


     The Livestock Diversification Act is passed in Alberta. This Act transfers administration of game farming from Fish and Wildlife to Alberta Agriculture. The Act controls sale of breeding stock, meat and antlers, licensing, compulsory identification and registration of stock, fencing standards and monitoring of product to ensure no wild animals can be included. 


     Agriculture Canada orders the destruction of a 600-head, $1-million game herd after bovine tuberculosis was detected in two of animals. Moravia Breeding International Ltd., farm is located 70 km south of North Bay Ontario. Included in the herd slated to be destroyed are camels, deer, elk, bison, and a Siberian tiger. 


     The Board of Directors of the Canadian Nature Federation announces its opposition to big game ranching in Canada. CNF Executive Director stated he fear “the development of big game ranching could be the start of a trend toward private ownership of our wildlife rather than the public stewardship which currently exists.” These conclusions come as a result of a two-year in-depth study examining the controversial issue.

    Currently  there are 251 commercial game ranches and farms in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, holding 5100 bison and 2900 wapiti.

    1985 January

     The Division of Fish and Wildlife released the promised “White Paper” on game ranching. The document is considered lacking by AWA, and is basically 11-pages of game ranching “promotion”. The main issue- whether Alberta is well served by game ranching, and whether it should be part of our wildlife management- is not addressed. 


    “The greatest danger of game ranching is to preservation,” says Dr. Val Geist, University of Calgary professor in a Southern Alberta Environment Group meeting.

    Agriculture Canada destroys 32 elk in the first Manitoba game farm, the Tent Town Game Farm near Minitonas, that were among 58 imported the year before from the U.S. John Eisner, owner intended to breed them with the hope of exporting their offspring. The animals have antibodies to the disease of blue-tongue, which is unknown in Canada. They are destroyed to defend Canada’s reputation as a country free of this disease, to insure that there is no danger to livestock in the area. The animals had been tested twice in the U.S. and the results were negative. However, later tests in Canada were positive. The government pays Eisner $3000 for each animal. Blue-tongue is fatal to sheep, an important animal in New Zealand’s economy.


     Alberta is at a crossroads in wildlife management as Alberta’s associate minister of public lands and wildlife, Don Sparrow, attempts to railroad through legislation of a new wildlife act endorsing game farming. These attempts have been met with widespread public opposition from many Albertan’s. Representatives of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Alberta Wilderness Association, and the recently-formed ESAU (Equal Shares for All Users) have united to oppose revisions to the Wildlife Act.


    Game farming making its debut in Canada.

    Manitoba acquires its first game farm for elk in Spring. The objectives of the ranch are to sell elk meat, breed stock for sale to New Zealand and research into elk habits, such as food preferences, calving information, etc. The venture starts with 10 elk, one bull and nine pregnant cows, removed from a local native herd due to a lack of available animals from other sources. The proposal for the game farm is supposed to go through a public consultation process. However, due to an intervening election in which the file changed hands, only one public meeting is held before someone signs the go-ahead for the venture. Consequently, there are a number of problems that are not taken into account that are outlined by the Dept. of Natural Resources and various concerned groups.

    “Vague policy and too little study before the decision has resulted in a major headache for all those concerned,” writes Lyle Fullerton in Western Canada Outdoors (Sept-Oct. 1982). “Alberta presently appears to be faring a little better, in that, no ranches are presently in operation. New policy and reorganization are underway, with the direction of Mr. Dennis Surrendi, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Fish and Wildlife Branch. A new department, “Commercial Wildlife” is being looked into with real interest….With a name like “Commercial Wildlife,” it is not too difficult to read between the lines and see a push toward the eventual sale of wild meat and/or products.” He notes that the Wildlife Act will have to be changed if big game products are to be sold.

    “Policy in each province is desperately needed to ensure that true wildlife does not become a by-product of commodity activities, even when that commodity activity was once wildlife….An underlying emotional struggle is what many persons, including myself, appear to be going through as wild animals, such as elk, have been long thought of as a regal, majestic portion of our wildlife heritage. To allow the confinement and commercial selling of products would be a serious degradation of this animal’s reputation and out heritage. To ranch big game or not is a question we all have to ask ourselves. It affects each and every one of us no matter what lifestyle we are living. Does money have to be the centre of that lifestyle and is all of creation a potential monetary value which is only seen as a development away?”


    B.C. proposes to launch an initial four game farms on private land for the first decade. Opposition is strong to the proposal, many concerned that game farming would be extended to public lands, which would interfere with the hunter’s domain.


    Game ranching is defined by Telfer and Scotter, Journal of Range Management May 1975, as “the keeping of wild mammals, principally large ungulates, either in fenced enclosures or under close surveillance, so that efficient systematic harvesting of meat is possible. The animals thus kept in semi-domestication may be either exotic or native species, but “game ranching” usually refers to the latter.” Private ownership is not necessarily part of the definition.


     The provincial government set up an interagency task force- the Alberta Wildlife Production Research Committee- to explore the potential of game ranching. It concluded that the practice was both economically and technically feasible as well as a good way to make existing marginal farms more viable. 

    1910 – 1915

    End of the open wildlife market in North America. It is ended because of slaughter and close extinction of several species of wildlife. The North American system of wildlife conservation is implemented – wildlife is considered a public resource, it cannot be sold for profit and access to wildlife through hunting is controlled by law.

    February 1, 2016

    Chronic Wasting Disease is out of Control

    February 2016 Wild Lands Advocate article by Joanna Skrajny If you’ve grown up in Alberta…

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    July 12, 2013

    Preliminary Chronic Wasting Disease Test Results Indicate Continued Spread

    Wild Lands Advocate update, April/May 2013, by Wonnita Andrus. In late March 2013, Alberta Environment…

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    March 19, 2013

    Preliminary Chronic Wasting Disease Test Results Indicate Continued Spread

    Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) released part of the 2012 Chronic Wasting Disease…

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