For many people, the phrase “endangered species” conjures up images of exotic wild animals. Even if you live in Canada, these words probably conjure up tigers living in India, the last northern white rhinos in Kenya, or koalas surviving wildfires in Australia.
Knowing about wildlife and conservation issues around the world is important if we want to save endangered species. But perhaps even more important for people living in Canada to know about the plants and animals we have right here in our own country that are also endangered. Because these are the species where our actions at home will determine whether they slide to the brink of extinction.
Last week we celebrated Endangered Species Day, a day of awareness and action regarding endangered wildlife. It’s also an opportunity for everyone to learn more about the other species that live on our planet and the steps we can take to save them.
Canada is home to hundreds of endangered species that are at risk of disappearing from our country and our planet. Officially, there are 685 listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. You’ve probably heard of them before, like polar bears and whooping cranes. But the list also includes species such as the northern madtom (a fish) and shy bulrush (a plant) that may never make it to the celebrity endangered wildlife list, but are at risk. also to be lost. Unfortunately, the number of endangered species continues to increase each year.
The Wildlife Conservation Society Canada highlights 10 species on the brink of extinction. These plants and animals, found across Canada, face threats such as habitat loss, competition from invasive species and climate change. For the most part, our actions have not been enough to halt their decline. For others, we don’t even have a plan to stop their extinction.
It’s a problem because we know that smart conservation action can save species. We’ve reversed that for plains bison and eastern bluebird, for example. But we were too late for Labrador duck or Dawson caribou. We desperately need emergency action to pull species back from the brink, but we also need to be proactive in pulling wildlife back from the brink of extinction, at which point recovery becomes extremely difficult and risky (as we are seeing with the mountain caribou).
Many solutions to halt extinction and reverse wildlife decline are waiting for us to act. We all have a role. Some of these actions will be featured on the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada’s new SHAPE of Nature website, where you can learn more about “endangered” species.
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada: On the Edge of Extinction 2022
North Atlantic right whale
Opinion: Canada has hundreds of endangered species that are at risk of disappearing from our country and our planet. Unfortunately, the number of endangered species is increasing every year, writes Dan Kraus @NatureDanimal @WCS_Canada. #ForNature #EndangeredSpeciesDay
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered large mammals on the planet, with fewer than 350 survivors. They feed and mate in Canadian waters in the spring and summer before migrating over 1,500 kilometers to coastal waters in the southeastern United States to give birth. Because they move slowly and float after being killed, they were once considered the “good” whale to hunt and were nearly exterminated by commercial whaling. Today, ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, ocean noise pollution and climate change all threaten this whale.
The Atlantic whitefish lives in Nova Scotia and nowhere else in the world. Historically, this unique species of whitefish lived in the ocean and migrated to fresh water to spawn. These migration routes were cut off with the construction of dams in the 1800s and today the last wild population is limited to lakes in the Petite Rivière watershed. This population continues to be threatened by invasive species and watershed disturbances. Greater support for the continued efforts of Coastal Action, Dalhousie University and other groups is needed to save this fish from extinction.
Rifle of the North
This small, colorful and aptly named freshwater mussel lives in the rapids of rivers and streams. It is found in only a few watersheds in eastern North America, including southern Ontario. Its range has shrunk by more than 95% due to water pollution and sedimentation and it is now threatened by invasive zebra mussels. Historically, northern riffles and other freshwater mussels were harvested in Ontario to make buttons. Ontario is one of the few places where the species still breeds. Protecting the water quality of the streams and rivers where it lives is essential to its survival.
This tiny butterfly is now only found in a handful of locations in Manitoba, Michigan and Wisconsin. In Canada, it is seen only in tallgrass prairie habitats. Today, less than one percent of this habitat remains. Habitat fragmentation and invasive species continue to threaten its small population. Ongoing efforts to protect and manage its habitat by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, and other groups help the poweshiek skipper and other endangered species that depend on the tallgrass prairie. The Assiniboine Park Conservancy runs a captive breeding program.
Rusty Patched Bumblebee
The global population of this bumblebee has rapidly declined over the past few decades. It was once fairly common in forested areas, mixed farmland, and even urban areas in southern Ontario and southwestern Quebec, but now occurs in less than 1% of its range. origin in Canada. This decline is likely the result of pesticides, transmission of disease by honeybees, habitat loss, and extreme weather conditions resulting from climate change. Reducing these threats and protecting and restoring habitat are essential to the survival of this species.
Caribou — Central Mountain and Southern Mountain populations
Mountain caribou live in the older coniferous forests, alpine slopes and high elevation areas of western Canada. Populations in central and southern Alberta and British Columbia have declined rapidly, and herd numbers have declined to fewer than 25 individuals or disappeared over the past two decades. This decline is the result of habitat loss, fragmentation, and industrial roads and trails leading to unsustainable levels of predation. Although there has been some protection of high altitude areas, this has not been sufficient due to ongoing development in low altitude areas. Preventing extirpation required intensive management, such as enclosure and predator control
The entire global range of this small, bright yellow wildflower is restricted to the Dawson Range in the Yukon. It is known from only two sites and grows on exposed rocks in the alpine tundra. It was discovered only a decade ago and may have survived the last Ice Age in these mountains. Although potentially threatened by mining, the main concern for its future survival is climate change. Klaza Draba, and other alpine species with small ranges, may not be able to shift their range in response to rapidly warming temperatures and other climatic changes.
Black ash is a tree that grows in moist regions from Newfoundland to Manitoba. Like all ash trees, it is being decimated by the introduced emerald ash borer which was first found in Canada in 2002. The emerald ash borer continues to spread and it is estimated that over 90% of black ash trees will be killed . Black ash is a dominant species in many wetland and floodplain ecosystems. It also has great cultural significance to many indigenous peoples and is used in basket making. Although Black Ash may persist as a species, the ecosystem and traditional use of this species are at high risk of being lost.
Roland’s sea blite is an annual plant with thick, succulent leaves that turn pale red in the fall. It has only been found in salt marshes along the coast of the Magdalen Islands in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, New York and New Jersey. More than half of its salt marsh habitat in Canada has been lost. It is also threatened by invasive species and rising sea levels due to climate change. It is listed as endangered in New York, but has no official conservation status in Canada. Further research is needed to map the range of this species in Canada and assess its conservation needs.
The sunflower starfish has 16 to 24 limbs and can reach one meter in diameter. It lives along the Pacific coast and is an important part of the kelp forest ecosystem. A disease called starfish wasting syndrome has caused the population to drop by more than 90% in less than 10 years. More than five billion sunflower starfish have died, causing it to disappear from the southern part of its range. The cause of the disease is unknown but could be linked to warming ocean temperatures. Scientists in the United States are developing methods to breed this species in captivity, and protecting the remaining populations in British Columbia will be essential to its survival.
Dan Kraus is National Conservation Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (WCS Canada).