Gateway Gazette

Calgary Zoo Supports Conservation

Canada’s Most Endangered Mammal Gets a Major Boost

Calgary, AB – As Canada marks its 150th birthday, the Calgary Zoo is also commemorating a successful year for the Vancouver Island marmot. The country’s most endangered mammal will see a major boost with three marmots released into the wild in early July and the birth of at least 16 pups at the zoo’s Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre (DWCC) this spring.

“This has been another very successful year for marmot reproduction at the Calgary Zoo,” says Dr. Doug Whiteside, Senior Staff Veterinarian, Calgary Zoo and Member, Marmot Recovery Team. “Working with our reintroduction breeding program partners, we are able to combine our expertise and make a real difference for these animals in the wild; Vancouver Island marmots are steadily coming back from the brink.”

Since 1998, the Calgary Zoo has played an integral role in working to protect this critically endangered species. Under the zoo’s skilled and knowledgable Animal Care and Conservation Research Teams, 120 captive-born marmots from Calgary have so far been released to the wild. In addition to species recovery, the zoo is involved in behavioural, reproductive, and health based research and as one of only two facilities in Canada caring for captive populations of marmots, this species would now be extinct if not for the efforts of the Calgary Zoo and the partners involved.

In early July, Marmot Recovery Team members will travel to Mount Washington on Vancouver Island and release the three animals into their native wild habitat. There, they will continue to be monitored by the recovery team to better under the survival of the species. The pups born this year, will remain at the Calgary Zoo until they turn one year old, after which it will be decided on where they will be released in 2018.

These release and births are significant as marmots are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Vancouver Island marmots were close to extinction however, reintroduction-breeding and science efforts by the Calgary Zoo and other partners have brought them back from the brink. 15 years ago there were as few as 30 individuals and today, around 200 animals exist in the wild.

Other partners involved in the captive breeding program include:  British Columbia Government, Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program and Toronto Zoo.

Conservation First in Alberta: Calgary Zoo Releases 15 Burrowing Owls

Calgary, AB – The Calgary Zoo has taken a significant step forward to bolster the endangered burrowing owl population in Alberta. This May, 15 owls were released into the wild; the first time for this species in the province. This marks a monumental milestone for the inaugural year of the head-starting project with partners Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), and Alberta Environment and Parks.

“Reversing the decline of endangered species such as burrowing owls is important, but not easy. It requires persistent innovation coupled with courageous action through sound partnerships,” says Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Director of Conservation and Science, Calgary Zoo. “I am so pleased with the cooperative, action-oriented nature of this project; for the first time we are saving individual owls from the trials of long-distance migration, reinforcing a population, and determining effectiveness through satellite-tracking across three countries. By using science, I believe we can make a positive difference for this cherished Canadian species over the years to come.”

This ground-breaking project, involved gathering 15 young owls from the wild (eight females and seven males), who had the least chance of survival, in the spring of 2016. The young were transported to the Calgary Zoo’s Animal Health Centre and then cared for over the winter at the zoo’s Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre (DWCC). Working with Federal and Provincial field staff, this spring the zoo helped to identify locations for eight artificial nest burrows in which the seven pairs and single female owl would be placed. The one-year old owls were outfitted with satellite transmitters and were then introduced into their new burrows at release sites, a couple of weeks prior to being released back to the wild to hopefully bolster Alberta’s population.

After being released in pairs, the owls settled into their burrows, mated, and all seven pairs have laid eggs. It is hoped that these offspring will hatch and join their parents’ fall migration to Mexico or the southern United States.

“Through our previous research on wild owls, we’ve learned that the main problem for the population appears to occur between the time that owlets fledge from their nests and when they should be returning as one-year olds to breed back in Canada”, says Dr. Troy Wellicome, Senior Species at Risk Biologist, Canadian Wildlife Service.  “The head-starting project is artificially circumventing that stage of high mortality and low site-fidelity, by taking the owlets into captivity and releasing them directly back into Alberta sites the following year to hopefully breed in the wild as first-year adults.”

Wild populations of burrowing owls have declined by an astounding 90 per cent since the 1990’s and the population continues to deteriorate. ‎These owls are listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) due to significant declines across their range in Canada’s southern prairies.

“Given the challenges presented by this long-distance migrant that spends half of each year south of the Canadian border, we are optimistic that this innovative conservation method help us to make a difference for this vital species in our province,” says Brandy Downey, Senior Species At Risk Biologist, Alberta Environment and Parks. “We are fortunate to have such a wealth of expertise in Alberta, all joining together to enable the conservation of the burrowing owl.”

The burrowing owl head-starting project is the first of its kind in western Canada. The second year of the project will continue in 2017 with a new set of owlets gathered this summer. As a leader in wildlife conservation with a proven track record of protecting imperiled Canadian species, the Calgary Zoo is well positioned to make an impact.

The Calgary Zoo thanks its generous individual donors, government partners, supporting organizations and the Canadian Wildlife Federation for making this work possible.

Source: Calgary Zoo

Check out the Land of Lemurs now open at the Calgary Zoo. You can walk through where the lemurs play, eat and groom one another!

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