A man who jumped onto the back of a moose as it swam across a lake could face animal-harassment charges in British Columbia, but would likely escape the threat of prosecution for a similar stunt in another province given Canada's patchwork of animal-rights laws, an expert said Tuesday.
While B.C.'s chief conservation officer said the culprit appears to have committed a serious offence that carries a hefty fine, the Animal Alliance of Canada said the province is one of the few Canadian jurisdictions to have clearly defined rules against harassing animals.
Similar rules are in place only in Alberta, Ontario and the Yukon, while Manitoba and Nova Scotia have less stringent regulations, said alliance director Liz White. Other provinces and territories do not address the issue in their various wildlife acts, she said.
Punishment would be unlikely to come through the Criminal Code either, White said, since it deals only with the more serious offence of animal cruelty and riding the back of a moose would likely fall short of that high threshold.
Still, the man's actions would be seen as harassment by nearly any standard, she said.
"We're trying to teach people to respect (animals)," White said in an interview. "Care for them, love them, observe them, enjoy them, but don't harass them and don't get near them. It sounds like this person who did this should heed that advice."
Wildlife authorities in B.C. said they were on the hunt for the man, who was captured on video leaping out of a boat and onto the moose while his companions laugh from a nearby boat. The video, shot at an unknown time and location, was posted to YouTube on Saturday.
Chief Conservation Officer Doug Forsdick said authorities were fielding tips and trying to identify the man, who could face a fine ranging from$345 to $100,000 under harassment legislation designed to distinguish between legitimate hunting activities and those that could cause an animal undue stress.
The B.C. Wildlife Act forbids anyone from behaviour that would "worry, exhaust, fatigue, annoy, plague, pester, tease or torment" an animal. Trapping and hunting, however, are explicitly allowed.
Some provinces take a different approach: Manitoba, for example, only prohibits harassment from vehicles, while Nova Scotia's laws apply primarily to dogs.
In 2013, a similar incident in Ontario offered two men a hard lesson in the potentially high price of animal harassment. They were fined a total of $2,500 after being captured on film using a boat to repeatedly circle a cow moose swimming in a northwestern Ontario lake. One man then leapt onto moose, prompting the animal to flee into the woods but causing no lasting injury.
Animals could injure others or even die themselves when put under unnecessary stress, Forsdick said.
The most recent video was hard for him to watch, he said, because of the likely emotional impact on the animal.