CALGARY, AB — The Calgary Zoo says they significantly boosted the wild population of the greater sage grouse.
According to a release sent Monday morning, the zoo revealed they have released 66 birds into the wild as part of a partnership between the zoo, Parks Canada, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
“We’re extremely proud of the great effort that has been going on since we became involved in this over five years ago and the great partnership with the government and non-government agencies,” said Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, director of conservation and science at the Calgary Zoo.
“Basically, the way of combining pragmatic action with science in a way that’s going to make a difference for the species, a species that’s a part of our Canadian natural heritage that we’re proud of, and we will not let disappear.
The partnership between the organizations started in 2014, with a greater sage grouse breeding facility, the only one of its kind in Canada, being constructed by the Calgary Zoo in 2016. The zoo has a population of 54 sage grouse as part of its breeding flock.
There are fewer than 250 greater sage grouse left in the wild, and the species has been listed as endangered since 1998. Loss of its natural habitat, along with the West Nile virus, are the main reasons for the decline in the bird’s population.
The birds have been released at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, and on Crown land acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Canada southwest of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The release took place in the fall of 2018.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada says its role is making sure the habitat for the birds is ideal for them to survive.
“Our plan for the land heading forward is going to be to try and restore it to as much of its native landscape as possible,” said Carys Richards, Communication Manager with the Alberta region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “We’re going to be planting a lot of native grasses and sagebrush, which is the preferred habitat for the sage grouse, and trying to make this an area that the birds will not only be released on, but live on and return to.”
Moehrenschlager says the release of the birds this past spring is only the beginning of conservation efforts.
“This is going to result in annual releases over the span of at least a decade, to try and stabilize these populations, in conjunction with other management efforts, and then hopefully be able to reverse the trend to get them to increase and be viable once again,” he said.
The Calgary Zoo is currently monitoring the released animals, and will be examining their status in April and May, which is the mating season for the greater sage grouse.
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