Calgary Zoo Reaffirms its Commitment to Save one of Canada’s Most Endangered Birds

Calgary, AB –The Calgary Zoo announced that, despite a difficult start, it will continue with its 10-year commitment to save one of Canada’s most endangered birds. It also announced that it will spend more than $500,000 in funding in 2015 to improve current infrastructure into a state-of the-art breeding facility for the Greater Sage-Grouse at the Calgary Zoo’s Devonian Wildlife Conservation Center, outside Calgary.

SageGrouseRelease3WM“Although no zoo has ever bred Greater Sage-Grouse before, we were asked to take on the immediate challenge of housing birds this spring because the status of the Canadian population in the wild is critical,” states Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Head of Conservation & Research at the Calgary Zoo, noting only about 100 to 150 individual birds are left in the country.

“We are extremely pleased to have successfully transferred eggs to the zoo that were collected by Alberta Fish & Wildlife in the wild, to have had higher than anticipated hatch rates, and now to have two mature sage grouse here at our facility; frankly, this is more than we could have hoped for at the start of the year.”

Dr. Moehrenschlager said the first year was challenging because from 13 hatched birds, of which 11 were healthy past the first two days, only two survived to the age of seven months. The other nine birds were lost due a variety of reasons such as diet, handling procedures and predation.

“We knew from previous projects that captive breeding is difficult; still, we were saddened by the loss of the birds. Our team of animals care staff, veterinarians and researchers really looked hard at how and why we lost those nine birds – we asked ourselves some tough questions. In the end, we concluded that we can learn and we can improve. We will continue to consult with other experts, refine our procedures and adjust. We are confident we can succeed.”

“We also take a lot confidence from our previous and ongoing successes with the breeding and conservation research of endangered species over the past 20 years,” said Dr. Moehrenschlager pointing to the zoo’s internationally recognized work with whooping cranes, Vancouver Island marmots, black-footed ferrets, and swift fox.

Last year, the Calgary Zoo was acknowledged as a top zoo in the world for conservation research and its team of biologists are in a leadership role for the science of species recovery and reintroduction in North America.

Dr. Moehrenschlager said the zoo will spend more than $500,000 in 2015 of funding committed by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) and Environment Canada on significant improvements to its breeding facilities at the zoo’s 320-acre Devonian Wildlife Conservation Center, just south of Calgary. The improvements also include animal care husbandry practices and conservation research.

The decision to embark on the captive breeding program was backed by a key recommendation made in January 2014 when the zoo hosted the international multi-stakeholder Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) Workshop for the Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada. With funding from ESRD and Environment Canada, the Calgary Zoo took immediate action and proceeded to take an important step towards saving one of Canada’s most endangered birds from extinction.

In Canada, the Greater Sage-Grouse is found only in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan; this year 14 male Greater Sage-Grouse were found in Alberta.  Habitat loss and degradation, predation, and West Nile Virus are believed to be the main threats taking their toll on this fragile population.

In 1998, the Greater Sage-Grouse was designated as Endangered and in 2013 the Federal Government announced an emergency order to protect the fragile species. This was the first time in Canada that the government had issued an Emergency Protection Order under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.