Animals, News, Science

Endangered Animals Making A Comeback In Canada

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Seven Canadian species that were once considered endangered or nearly extinct are beginning to flourish again, thanks to efforts by conservationists.

Canadian Geographic magazine reported in its December 2013 issue that populations of endangered whooping cranes, North Pacific humpback whales, eastern wild turkeys, swift foxes, sea otters, wood bison and peregrine falcons have increased in recent years. Most of them are no longer considered endangered.

Several factors contributed to the disappearance of these species, including loss of habitat, pesticides, disease and over-hunting.

Conservationists have helped to re-establish these animals in a number of ways. In some cases they have introduced populations from other parts of Canada or the United States. Some animals are bred in captivity and then released into the wild.

Canada has also created laws to protect wildlife, such as banning hunting or setting up protected areas of land for the animals to live on.

In each case, conservationists faced unique challenges in helping to rebuild animal populations.

Image: Geoff Gallice
Image: Geoff Gallice

In 1942, there were only 15 whooping cranes left in a flock that migrated between Aransas, Texas, in the United States, and Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. By protecting their habitat, bringing in birds from other flocks, and breeding birds in captivity, conservationists have helped the flock grow to 247 birds.

But birds raised by humans don’t always have the skills needed to survive in the wild. For example, people had to teach some whooping cranes how to migrate to their wintering grounds by guiding them there with ultralight aircraft, like in the movie Fly Away Home.

Image: Laura Whitehouse
Image: Laura Whitehouse

Wood Buffalo National Park is also home to the wood bison. Wood bison had been hunted so much that they were nearly extinct by the beginning of the 20th century. In 1893, Canada passed a law against hunting bison, and the population gradually began to grow again.

But in the 1920s, herds of plains bison were introduced into the park and spread diseases such as tuberculosis to the wood bison. They also began to interbreed with the wood bison, interfering with the purity of the species.

Fortunately, in 1957 a herd of about 200 pure wood bison was discovered in the park, ensuring that the species survived. There are now about 10,000 wood bison in Canada.

Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

The North Pacific humpback whale population had fallen to about 1,500 worldwide in the 1960s. New restrictions on commercial whaling were introduced in 1965, and now there are about 20,000 humpback whales.

More than 2,000 of these whales live in the coastal waters off British Columbia. They are still classified as “threatened” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, but now their greatest dangers come from getting tangled in fishing equipment, colliding with fast ships and the risk of oil spills from tankers in the area.

Image: Sasha Kopf
Image: Sasha Kopf

The Eastern wild turkey had disappeared from Ontario by 1909 because of excessive hunting, and because the forests they needed to provide food and protection for their young were being cleared for farmland.

Wild turkeys from the United States were introduced into Ontario beginning in 1984. Today the population is so large – about 100,000 – that people are allowed to hunt the birds again.

Image: Cburnett
Image: Cburnett

The swift fox was considered “extirpated” – locally extinct – in 1938. Much of the prairie grasslands where it lived in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had been destroyed for farmland. In addition, farmers set out poison to kill pests such as prairie dogs, squirrels and coyotes, and accidentally killed the foxes as well.

In 1983, conservationists began releasing swift foxes that had been born in the wild and raised in captivity into southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. By 2006, there were 650 foxes in the area and the species was classified as threatened, but stable.

Ironically, the growing swift fox population could pose a threat to another endangered species – the greater sage-grouse – which it hunts for food.

Image: Joe Robertson
Image: Joe Robertson

The sea otter, which was hunted for its fur during the 1700s and 1800s, had disappeared from the British Columbia coast by 1929. In 1969, 89 Alaskan sea otters were relocated to Checleset Bay, an ecological reserve off the coast of Vancouver Island and the population grew.

Today, the species’ biggest threat comes from oil spills which can cause the otter’s fur to lose its ability to insulate the animal from the cold water.

Image: Stewart Black
Image: Stewart Black

The peregrine falcon nearly became extinct because of pesticides that were used on farms from the 1950s to the 1970s. Small birds ate the insects and grains that were exposed to the pesticides, and peregrine falcons fed on the smaller birds, absorbing all of the poisonous chemicals from the pesticides.

These chemicals affected the ability of the peregrine falcons to breed. When they did breed, the eggshells were poorly formed, and few birds were hatched. By 1975, there were only 35 pairs left in Canada. Now, thanks to pesticide bans and captive breeding programs, there are more than 800 pairs in Canada.

Related links
Species on the rebound, Canadian Geographic.

List of Canadian species at risk.

Greater sage-grouse profile.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt

Image: Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Image: Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Today’s article explains that the greater sage-grouse is threatened by the growing numbers of swift foxes. What does this tell you about nature’s delicate balance? What solutions would you suggest in order to save this endangered species?

Reading Prompt: Text Features
Today’s article contains many beautiful and rare photographs. How do images improve your understanding of today’s article? How do photos engage readers differently than text? Given your previous answers, why do you think non-fiction texts tend to include lots of photographs?

Junior
Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help readers under- stand texts  (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Intermediate
Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help communicate meaning (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Grammar Feature: Species, regular or proper noun?
A regular noun is the common name of a person, place, or thing and is never capitalized. On the other hand, a proper noun is the specific name of a person, place or thing and is always capitalized. But where does that place species? Are they regular nouns because it is a shared name or are they proper nouns because they belong to a specific group of animals?

Although this point is somewhat debated, most agree that species are considered common nouns. They refer to a broad group of animals and are not proper nouns. For this reason, they are not capitalized.

So why then is “North Pacific humpback whale” grammatically correct?