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Flights of Fancy

Fall is a time of change; leaves are turning, children are back to school and birds are migrating. Currently, AIWC has 20 Swainson’s Hawk patients in care for reasons ranging from head trauma and broken wings sustained from car collisions to rodenticide poisoning. Please help to support their rehabilitation process which means getting them up, up and away in time for their September migration!

Tickets to our Flights of Fancy Fall Migration Event are available at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/flights-of-fancy-tickets-36937730747?utm_term=eventurl_text

Thank you for your support!

 

Preserving Alberta’s Grizzly Population

The grizzly, one of Alberta’s most iconic animals, is a large bear with a shoulder hump, and ranges in colour from blonde to brown. Males can weigh from 200-300 kg, while female grizzlies weigh 100-200 kg. Grizzlies have a slow reproductive rate, as females typically have their first litter between four and eight years of age, and have long intervals between litters. Grizzly cubs typically remain with their mothers for anywhere from two to five years (Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan).

As omnivores, grizzlies forage on plant-based sources of foods, such as grasses, berries, roots, but also eat fish, rodents, insects and birds. Grizzlies living closer to human populations may incorporate garbage, livestock and grains into their diet (Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan).

While most bears will try to avoid humans, when their natural sources of food are in low supply, grizzlies may roam into human-populated areas such as towns or campsites. Once grizzlies learn there is an abundant supply of food in human-populated areas, they may be reluctant to leave (Willis). For strategies and information on how to reduce grizzly/human interaction, visit http://aep.alberta.ca/recreation-public-use/alberta-bear-smart/default.aspx .

The grizzly bear was designated a threatened species in Alberta in 2010, due mostly to human causes such as hunting and self-defence kills (Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan). Additionally, increased human activity in grizzly territory can result in more human/bear conflicts, which may lead to more bear deaths.

In 2008, the Alberta government introduced the Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, a five-year strategy focused on reducing human-caused grizzly deaths, with the goal of achieving a self-sustaining grizzly population. The Recovery Plan included recommendations such as temporarily suspending hunting, controlling use and development of land in grizzly territory and developing education programs (Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan).

A recent study performed by the University of Alberta has shown that the grizzly population in southwestern Alberta has increased 4% from 2007, a figure that Alberta Environment and Parks believe demonstrates that the Recovery Plan is working (Derworiz). A 2014 study of the area from the boundaries of Banff and Jasper national parks, east to Drayton Valley and Rocky Mountain House, has shown a 7% increase in the grizzly population. Alberta Environment and Parks estimates that the grizzly population could be between 1,000 and 1,200 bears across the province of Alberta, compared to the estimated 700 grizzlies in Alberta prior to the introduction of the Grizzly Recovery Plan (Derworiz). While these numbers are promising, it is clear that more work and conservation efforts are required over the coming years to ensure that Alberta’s grizzly population continues to grow, and eventually, thrive.

Are you interested in learning how you can help AIWC care for injured and orphaned wildlife? Visit https://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/ for more information.

By Anna Wingenbach, AIWC Volunteer 

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

Sources:

“Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.” Alberta Environment and Parks, Web. Mar. 2008. aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wildlife-management/grizzly-bear-recovery-plan/documents/GrizzlyBear2008-2013-RecoveryPlan-2008.pdf. Accessed 10 Aug. 2017.

Willis, Katie. “How to keep Alberta’s grizzly bears-and yourself-Safe this spring.” University of Alberta, Web. 4 Apr. 2017, www.ualberta.ca/news-and-events/newsarticles/2017/april/how-to-keep-albertas-grizzly-bears-safe. Accessed 10 Aug. 2017.

Derworiz, Colette. “Southern Alberta Grizzly Bear Numbers on the Rise.” Calgary Herald, Web. 29 June 2016, calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/southern-alberta-grizzly-bear-numbers-on-the-rise-survey. Accessed 10 Aug. 2017.

 

Meet the Olive-Sided Flycatcher!

“Quick, free beer!”

If you’ve heard this distinctive rapid call in the boreal forests of Alberta, it’s probably not coming from the local pub, but from an olive-sided flycatcher.

Olive-sided flycatchers are stout songbirds found across Canada in forest clearings surrounding rivers, bogs, and marshes where insect populations are high. They are named for their grey-olive colouring which provides excellent camouflage in their wooded range making them difficult for birders to spot save for their unique song, “quick, free beer!” Olive-sided flycatchers are territorially aggressive and have been known to knock squirrels and other birds out of trees to protect their nest (Olive-Sided Flycatcher). They also have one of the longest recorded ranges of flycatchers with some migrating between Alaska and Bolivia annually (Contopus Cooperi).

While this species does well in post-fire areas, having a preference for catching prey on the wing from high tree snag perches, other tree-clearing activities seem to have detrimental impacts on their numbers. The olive-sided flycatcher population has been declining steadily for several decades. Although little is known about the direct cause of the decrease, contributing factors likely include a decrease in insects, fire suppression, logging, mining, and conversion of land for commercial and residential uses. Unfortunately, the breeding and feeding habits of the olive-sided flycatcher make them less resilient to additional threats. A lengthy nesting period increases the risk of predation while a dependence on insects can make for a tenuous food supply during inclement weather (Recovery Strategy for the Olive-Sided Flycatcher).

In an effort to protect this species, federal, provincial, and territorial partners have come together to develop the Recovery Strategy for the Olive-Sided Flycatcher and the proposed Multispecies Action Plan for Jasper National Park of Canada. Although there are some concerns about the effectiveness of these measures, these strategies should increase population reporting to provide better data on this songbird’s ideal habitat while clarifying the most pressing threats to the species so that improved plans for recovery can be created in future.

Approximately one-quarter to one-third of AIWC patients each year are songbirds. To help us rehabilitate and release these wild lives, sponsor a songbird on our website.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Photo Credit: Government of Canada Species at Risk Public Registry

Sources:

“Olive-Sided Flycatcher.” Environment Canada Species at Risk. Web. 01 Aug. 2017. <http://www.speciesatrisk.ca/SARGuide/download/Olive-Sided%20Flycatcher.pdf>.

“Contopus Cooperi”. Boreal Songbird Initiative. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Aug. 2017. <http://www.borealbirds.org/bird/olive-sided-flycatcher>.

“Recovery Strategy for the Olive-sided Flycatcher.” (n.d.): n. pag. Environment Canada Species at Risk. Web. 01 Aug. 2017. < http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_olive-sided%20flycatcher_e_final.pdf>

Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Northern Leopard Frog

What are leopard frogs?

One of the largest frog species found in Alberta, the northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) varies in size between 2 and 5 inches. They can be easily distinguished by their green or brown colouration and the numerous dark spots that give them their name (Russell & Bauer 2000). The call of the leopard frog is also quite distinctive, a low-pitched snore followed by clucking or grunting noises (AEP).

Where are leopard frogs found?

Like all amphibians, the northern leopard frog thrives best in locations where clean, fresh water is readily available. They also prefer open or lightly wooded areas rather than heavy forest cover (AEP, Russell & Bauer 2000).

Until the late 1970s, leopard frogs were widely distributed across most of the province, but due to habitat fragmentation are now found mainly in isolated populations in the southern grass and wetlands of Alberta (Kendell 2007). The Alberta Environmental Protection agency has since listed the species as threatened, meaning they are at potential risk of becoming endangered.

What is being done to protect the leopard frog?

Efforts to increase population numbers of the leopard frog began in 2005 with the drafting of the Alberta Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Plan 2005-2010, which aimed to “achieve well-distributed and self-sustaining populations of Northern Leopard Frogs throughout their historical range in Alberta”.

The first step was to conduct initial surveys of the entire province, which revealed around 20 populations of leopard frogs that had not yet been discovered. However, these surveys also showed that many of these sites were heavily impacted by human activity, mainly from agrarian development (ANLPRP 2005). The landowners of each of these instances were also surveyed and educated about the leopard frogs, in an effort to increase awareness and stewardship responsibilities. These issues were then also introduced to the public (via newspaper articles and tv segments), and conservation education was used to demonstrate the need for preservation of the species.

Over the course of the 5-year recovery plan, several re-introductions of leopard frog eggs were undertaken in historical leopard frog ranges. These initial re-introductions were closely monitored, and deemed a success after a majority of the eggs reached young-of-the-year stage in their development (followed by sub-adult and finally adult stage) (ANLPRP 2005). Based on these results, and data gathered from a similar project in Washington state, a facility for captive breeding and eventual release into the wild was constructed in Caroline, at the Raven Brood Trout Station in 2010.

Why is recovery of the leopard frog important?

Any species is an important contribution to the diversity and wellbeing of the ecosystem they inhabit. Northern leopard frogs feed on quite a large variety of prey, including small birds and even snakes. In this way, they can help reduce the numbers of animals that may prey on more susceptible species.

Amphibians are also generally very good bio-indicators, as they have a wide range of habitats and respond to change very quickly (COSEWIC). Responses to introduced predators/competing species and habitat changes (in the case of Alberta, the drainage of watersheds for agriculture and habitat fragmentation) can tell us exactly how the rest of the ecosystem may be effected.

As well as benefiting their own ecosystem, the leopard frog might also help us in ways we do not yet fully understand. Research from the University of Bath (UK) showed that synthetic versions of a molecule found in the egg cells of the northern leopard frog can be used to treat brain tumours, and perhaps other forms of cancer (Eurekalert 2007).

What more needs to be done, and how can we help?

The northern leopard frog is currently under the supervision of the MULTISAR (Multiple Species at Risk program), which focuses on: surveying local populations; assessing the ecological status of the habitat; developing management recommendations and habitat enhancement projects; and monitoring the species’ response over time (AEP).

The release of information and subsequent education of the general public, as outlined in the Frog Recovery Plan, is focused primarily on the prevention of further habitat degradation and public assistance in finding new populations for us all to take care of.

Are you interested in learning how you can support AIWC care of injured and orphaned wildlife? Visit https://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/ for more information!

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

References

Alberta Environment and Parks Northern Leopard Frog Species Profile (http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/amphibians/frogs/northern-leopard-frog.aspx)

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Research Development. 2012. Alberta Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Plan, 2010-2015. Alberta Species at Risk Recovery Plan no. 20. Edmonton, AB. 34 pp.

COSEWIC: (http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=551)

Eurekalert article on the research from University of Bath (https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-06/uob-fmc062607.php)

Kendell, K., and Prescott, D. 2007. Northern Leopard Frog reintroduction strategy for Alberta. Technical Report, T-2007-002, Alberta Conservation Association, Edmonton, AB. 31 pp.

Russell, A.P., and Bauer, A.M. 2000. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Alberta. A field guide and primer of boreal herpetology, 2nd edition. University of Calgary Press and University of Alberta Press, Calgary and Edmonton, AB. 279 pp.

A Visit to Frank Lake

So, you want to go birding? Today’s blog is going to be all about a great location just outside of Calgary, that you can visit to enjoy the outdoors and see several bird species, and if you’re lucky, some mammals as well.

Let us introduce you to Frank Lake! Frank Lake is only about 45 minutes south of Calgary. To get to the lake, take Highway 2 southbound for about 50 km, turn off on the eastbound exit to Highway 23, and head east for another 5 km. The turn-off for the lake will be on the south side of the road and will lead you to the parking lot.

(Image courtesy of Google Maps 2017a)

Frank Lake is considered to be a wetland complex and boasts thick vegetation along the shorelines that provides excellent habitat for waterfowl, marsh birds, shorebirds, and other wildlife. The wetland complex consists of three basins that total 3,100 acres of wetland, and an additional 1,700 acres of surrounding managed upland (Ducks Unlimited 2017). The surrounding landscape is mostly agriculture and pasture land.

(Photo courtesy of Google Maps 2017b)

This location attracts several animal species: a total of 194 bird species and 16 mammal species have been recorded here, as well as 190 plant species (Ducks Unlimited 2017).

Frank Lake is currently a managed and monitored wetland and is considered one of the most important wetlands in southern Alberta for breeding water birds (Bird Studies Canada 2017). Prior to management of Frank Lake, the area had seen several years of complete dryness, and on the complete opposite end, had also seen several years of flooding. By managing the wetland complex that is Frank Lake as a permanent waterbody, wildlife habitat is maintained. Ducks Unlimited worked with industry, municipal, provincial and federal governments in 1988 to determine a long-term plan to maintain and protect water levels of the lake from drought and flooding (Ducks Unlimited 2017). Fast forward almost 30 years and you will see the thriving wetland that it is today!

Furthermore, many artificial structures such as nest boxes, nest platforms, and rock islands have been placed throughout the wetland to enhance the habitat for wildlife that nest and live here (Bird Studies Canada 2017).

My personal favourite thing about Frank Lake is the observation blind (a little hut on the water that shields you from the view of birds on the lake). The observation blind allows you to be able to see birds closer up, as they won’t swim away from you like they would if you were out in the open. This is also a great spot for those who are fond of photographing birds and waterfowl! The observation blind makes it so you don’t have to stay still for hours on end to be able to catch a great photo!

Several thousand Franklin’s gulls have also been known to nest here, with the colony population at upwards of 10,000 individuals reported in 1971 (Bird Studies Canada 2017). Some of the other more common species that are frequently observed here include the eared grebe, black-crowned night-heron, California gull, ring-billed gull and common tern (Bird Studies Canada 2017). Some of the more uncommon or unexpected sightings include the black-necked stilt, Baird’s sparrow, white-faced ibis and Clark’s grebe (Bird Studies Canada 2017; Smith 1993). Several listed species (Alberta Government 2015) have been observed here, such as the peregrine falcon (At Risk), ferruginous hawk (At Risk), long-billed curlew (Sensitive), and short-eared owl (May be At Risk)(Bird Studies Canada 2017).

Pictured here are a yellow-headed black bird, a ruddy duck, an eared grebe, an American avocet, and a muskrat.

 

(Photos courtesy of Tayler Hamilton)

Before you venture out to Frank Lake, we encourage you to:

     First, check the weather and wear appropriate clothing; and,

     Second, but more importantly, check out this guide created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/barchart?byr=1900&eyr=2014&bmo=1&emo=12&r=CA-AB_079.

This handy tool allows you to see what bird species have been reported at the lake and during what times of the year! 

As stewards of wildlife we ask you to be respectful while visiting Frank Lake (or any natural area) and to stay on the designated pathways, to not purposefully disrupt any wildlife that may be present, and to make sure you leave no garbage behind.

As always, if you see any wildlife in distress, please don’t hesitate to call us at 403-946-2361 to seek advice or assistance in the matter. Stay safe and have fun!

For specific directions on how to get to Frank Lake, follow this link:

https://www.google.ca/maps/dir/Calgary,+AB/Frank+Lake,+Foothills+No.+31,+AB/@50.8057356,-114.1727583,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x537170039f843fd5:0x266d3bb1b652b63a!2m2!1d-114.0708459!2d51.0486151!1m5!1m1!1s0x5371ecedfd7a943f:0x20cbda3ccfccfbba!2m2!1d-113.7109326!2d50.5609413

 

References:

Alberta Government. 2015. Alberta Wild Species General Status Listing – 2015. Available at: http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/species-at-risk/albertas-species-at-risk-strategy/general-status-of-alberta-wild-species/documents/SAR-2015WildSpeciesGeneralStatusList-Mar2017.pdf. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Bird Studies Canada. 2017. Frank Lake (south), High River, Alberta. Available at: http://www.ibacanada.ca/site.jsp?siteID=AB079&lang=EN. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2015. eBird Canada: Bird Observations, Frank Lake. Available at: http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/barchart?byr=1900&eyr=2014&bmo=1&emo=12&r=CA-AB_079. Accessed July 18, 2017. 

Ducks Unlimited. 2017. Frank Lake. Available at: http://www.ducks.ca/places/alberta/frank-lake/. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Google Maps. 2017a. Map data. Available at: https://www.google.ca/maps/dir/Calgary,+AB/Frank+Lake,+Foothills+No.+31,+AB/@50.8057356,-114.1727583,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x537170039f843fd5:0x266d3bb1b652b63a!2m2!1d-114.0708459!2d51.0486151!1m5!1m1!1s0x5371ecedfd7a943f:0x20cbda3ccfccfbba!2m2!1d-113.7109326!2d50.5609413. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Google Maps. 2017b. Map data. Available at: https://www.google.ca/maps/place/Frank+Lake/@50.5539155,-113.7178315,11751m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x5371ecedfd7a943f:0x20cbda3ccfccfbba!8m2!3d50.5609413!4d-113.7109326. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Smith, Wayne, W. 1993. Frank Lake. Revised in 2012. Available at: https://www.naturecalgary.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/location_franklake_GWmap.pdf. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Wagner, G. 2012. Map of Frank Lake. Birds Calgary. Available at: http://www.birdscalgary.com/birding-resources/frank-lake/. Accessed July 18, 2017.

Escaping Wildfires

 

The current wildfire situation in British Columbia has resulted in the devastating loss of many homes and has displaced tens of thousands of British Columbians who have been forced to evacuate. But what about the animals who inhabit the areas affected by wildfires? Do they also evacuate?

While a wildfire almost certainly means that some animals will lose their lives, some species may be able to escape. For example, raptors, with their superior eyesight and ability to fly well above the inferno, may be able to escape the affected area and flee to safety. Sadly, birds that fly at a lower altitude may succumb to due smoke inhalation, or exhaustion. Some burrowing species may be able to survive by digging themselves deep into the earth where they will remain until the danger has passed (“Campbell”).

Young animals and smaller creatures are most likely to perish during a fire; however, some predatory animals, such as bears and raccoons, have actually been spotted taking advantage of the fires by hunting other animals that try to escape the affected area (“Zielinski”).

While a fire is devastating to wildlife, life returns to the affected areas quickly. In one to three years, bears actually can benefit from the fire, as the increased sunlight in areas affected by fires means abundant berry crops (“Heidenreich”). Slowly, wildlife will begin to return to the area and adjust to their new homes in a much-changed landscape.

For more information on how forests and vegetation recover from wildfires, visit https://www.aiwc.ca/wildfires-and-wildlife/

Are you interested in learning about how you can support AIWC rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife? Visit https://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/ for more information!

Sources:

Campbell, Meagan. “Where the Wild Things Are”. Macleans. Rogers Digital Media, 9 May 2016. Web. 17 July 2017. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/where-the-wild-things-are-2/

Zielinski, Sarah. “What Do Wild Animals Do in a Wildfire?”. National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 22 July 2014. Web. 17 July 2017. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140721-animals-wildlife-wildfires-nation-forests-science/

Heidenreich, Phil. “Fort McMurray Wildfire Likely Killed All Wildlife in its Path”. Global News. Corus Entertainment Inc., 12 May 2016. Web. 17 July 2017. http://globalnews.ca/news/2698551/fort-mcmurray-wildfire-likely-killed-all-wildlife-in-its-path-expert/

World Zoonosis Day

Last week marked World Zoonosis Day, which is observed annually on July 6, the anniversary of the first use of a rabies vaccine. Louis Pasteur began developing zoonotic vaccines by studying fowl cholera and bovine anthrax before successfully administering a rabies vaccine to a victim of a rabid dog attack in 1885 (“Louis Pasteur”).

Zoonosis is defined as a disease that can be spread from animals to humans directly through bites or scratches, like rabies and cat scratch fever, or indirectly through bug bites like Lyme disease, Zika or West Nile. Other varieties may be contracted through spores in the air or contaminated water. Many devastating epidemics through human history resulted from zoonosis including the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1919, which originated in birds, and the plague in the 1300s which was spread by infected fleas carried by rats (“World Zoonosis Day”). While these facts may be alarming, World Zoonosis Day aims not to frighten people, but to encourage awareness and preventative measures.

Today, many options are available for preventing exposure and contraction of zoonotic diseases. Protective equipment like masks and gloves, vaccines against certain viruses, and even bug spray to avoid mosquito bites can reduce the instances of human infection. Wildlife rehabilitators must be careful when handling species like skunks, foxes, and bats, which may carry rabies. Although cases of rabies are low in Alberta, should you find a rabies vector animal in need of rehabilitation, it is best to contact AIWC directly as our staff and volunteers are specially trained to handle wildlife, and those volunteers that handle rabies vector species are vaccinated against the disease. It is important for anyone who is not vaccinated against rabies to avoid scratches and bites from animals that may be infected, as tests for the disease can only be completed post-mortem, which means the animal may have to be euthanized for testing, rather than released.

With due care and attention, people and animals can happily coexist.

Are you interested in learning more about how you can support AIWC rehabilitate injured wildlife? Visit www.aiwc.ca/support-us for more information!

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Sources:

“World Zoonosis Day.” Merial, Web. 06 July 2017. <http://merial.com/en/content-pages/featured-articles/world-zoonosis-day-16>.

“Louis Pasteur.” Chemical Heritage Foundation, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 06 July 2017. <https://www.chemheritage.org/historical-profile/louis-pasteur>.

Respecting Wildlife

Imagine this: you are driving down the road when you see a grizzly bear feeding in the ditch. It would make the perfect photo; there’s no one around, you could easily get closer to the bear and the pine trees make the perfect background. But is taking that photo the right thing to do?

There has been significant coverage over the recent weeks about the growing number of visitors in Alberta parks who put themselves in harms’ way, with the hope of getting that “perfect” wildlife photo. One such recent incident in Banff National Park involved a group of about 20 to 30 people who stopped to take photos of a grizzly bear, when one individual broke away from the group and put themselves within mere metres of the bear, attempting to get the perfect shot (Fletcher, Robson).

Alberta Parks’ Safety Around Wildlife guide recommends that spectators keep a distance of at least three bus lengths, or 30 metres, away from large animals, such as elk and moose, and about three times that distance, or 100 metres away, from bears. While wild animals may look cute, they are, of course, wild creatures and are unpredictable and potentially dangerous, and need to be treated as such. Spectators should always remain in their vehicle.

But there’s more to consider than safety, when deciding whether or not to take that photo. Wild animals that spend too much time in the vicinity of humans can become habituated to humans. An animal who becomes habituated to humans may venture further into more populated areas in search of food, or no longer flee when he/she sees a vehicle or comes into contact with humans, which is dangerous for the animal. When deciding whether or not to take a photo of a wild animal, consider that even though there may not be an immediate threat to you as the photographer, simply being in the vicinity may make the animal feel more comfortable around humans (“Alberta Bear Smart”).

So the next time you stumble across a wild animal, though it may be tempting to get closer to get the perfect photo, consider helping to keep that wild animal wild by moving along.

Are you interested in learning how to support AIWC as they rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife? Visit www.aiwc.ca/support-us for more information!

Fletcher, Robson. “’Unbelievable’: Banff visitor walks right up to grizzly in apparent bid for closeup photo.” CBC News Calgary, 26 June 2017. Web. 3 July 2017. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/banff-bear-grizzly-photo-close-up-danger-1.4178541>.

“Safety Around Wildlife.” Alberta Parks, Web. 03 July 2017. <http://www.albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/advisories-public-safety/outdoor-safety/safety-around-wildlife/>.

“Alberta Bear Smart.” Alberta Environment and Parks, May 2011. Web. 3 July 2017. <http://aep.alberta.ca/recreation-public-use/alberta-bear-smart/documents/AlbertaBearSmart-ProgramManual-May2011.pdf>.

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Swift Fox

What are swift foxes?

As the name suggests, the swift fox (Vulpes velox) is a speedy little fox species once found in the prairies and foothills of the southern Alberta Rockies and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The species can be distinguished from other vulpine species by its small size (usually no bigger than a large housecat), which allows them to reach top speeds of up to 60 km/hr. Other defining traits include vertical cat-like eyes, black facial spots on the sides of their muzzles, and long, black-tipped bushy tails (AEP species profile; Alberta Swift Fox Recovery Plan 2006-2011).

Where are swift foxes found?

The swift fox was originally distributed in large populations across the Canadian Prairies, but declined due to poorly implemented trapping and predator control programs and an increase in agrarian development in the late 1800’s. This led the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada to classify the species as extirpated (locally extinct) in 1978. (ASFPR 2006-2011; COSEWIC).

Thankfully, a large project put together by the Smeetons of the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI) successfully re-introduced the species both in Canada and certain states in America, and this project is considered one of the most successful re-introductions of a small carnivore species worldwide (ASFPR 2006-2011; Weagle & Smeeton 1997).

How was the swift fox re-introduced to Alberta?

Initial populations of swift foxes to be used in breeding and captive-rearing programs were taken from populations across North America and brought to Alberta. Between 1983 and 1997, the CEI provided over 800 swift foxes, captive-bred and reared for eventual release into the wild.

The main goals of the associated research were to achieve the first successful re-introduction of an extirpated mammalian species; to develop non-intrusive monitoring methods for at-risk/endangered species, and to use this data to create a “blueprint” for other countries to follow regarding their own endangered species (Weagle & Smeeton 1997).

Among the most important aspects of any re-introduction project is to ensure that the captive-bred and captive-reared species are taught the skills necessary for them to survive in the wild, including hunting for wild prey. However, these skills alone are not enough for a successful re-introduction, as the methods of release and location are also extremely important (Weagle & Smeeton 1997; CEI 1995).

Why was the swift fox re-introduction important?

The loss of any species is always a tragedy, especially when it is due to preventable human impacts. Swift foxes are a unique part of the prairie ecosystem, as they are omnivorous and will feed on almost anything, including pest species such as mice or insects (AEP profile). They are also important bio-indicators (species that can tell us the health of the ecosystem they occupy) as swift foxes thrive best in large, unbroken expanses of short grass prairie with high prey numbers/variation. If the number of swift foxes dwindle, it can tell us that there may be greater ecosystem problems, such as pollutants or excessive prey reduction (Adamus 1996).  It is our responsibility to ensure that at-risk species are given the help they need to survive, not just for the species itself, but for the health of the larger ecosystem they contribute to.

What more needs to be done, and how can we help?

At last estimate, there are less than 100 swift foxes living in southern Alberta, according to the AEP swift fox profile. They are currently protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), the Canadian National Parks and Alberta Wildlife Acts. It is prohibited to kill, harm, or harass the species. But these governmental acts are not enough to preserve them alone.

The Alberta swift fox re-introduction, while deemed a success, in that the species is no longer locally extinct, has had different results than another study (also done by the Smeetons and the CEI) with the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. The study in Montana had full control over release site selection and methodology, and provided post-program surveying and was far more effective, with a survival rate of over 75% after the first four years, compared to the 20% shown in the Canadian study (Weagle & Smeeton 1997).

It is therefore clear that a lot more research, surveying and monitoring of the captive-bred reintroductions is needed in Alberta. Post-release surveys and breeding programs are crucial in helping the species survive.

We lost this amazing species once. We can’t let it happen again.

Are you interesting in learning how to support injured and orphaned wildlife in Alberta? Visit https://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/ for more information.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

References:

Adamus, P.R. (1996). Bioindicators for assessing ecological integrity of prairie wetlands. EPA/600/R-96/082. U.S Environmental Protection Agency, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology Division, Corvalis, OR.

Alberta Environment and Parks, Swift Fox profile (http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/wild-dogs/swift-fox.aspx

Alberta Swift Fox Recovery Plan (2006-2011). Alberta Swift Fox Recovery Team. Alberta Sustainable Research Development, Fish and Wildlife division, Alberta Species at Risk Recovery Plan No. 14. Edmonton, AB. 23pp.

Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC) (http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=140)

Weagle, K., and Smeeton, C. (1997). Captive breeding of Swift Fox for re-introduction: Final Report. Cochrane Ecological Institute, P.O box 484, Cochrane AB.

http://www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/take-action/help-the-swift-fox-make-a-speedy-comeback/

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

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