POLITICS

Calgary Zoo says 1st year of sage grouse breeding challenging

12/16/2014 05:53 EST | Updated 02/15/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - The Calgary Zoo says it remains committed to saving one of Canada’s most endangered birds following a rough start to its greater sage grouse breeding program.

The zoo says in a news release that the first year was challenging — of the 13 that hatched, only two survived to the age of seven months.

Nine birds were lost due to diet, handling procedures, and predation.

Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, head of conservation and research, says no zoo has ever bred greater sage grouse before.

The bird is only found in Canada in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, but its numbers have dropped 98 per cent in the last three decades with fewer than 140 birds remaining.

Moehrenschlager says the zoo will spend more than $500,000 in 2015 of funding committed by Alberta Environment and Environment Canada on significant improvements to its breeding facilities.

He says the improvements also include animal care husbandry practices and conservation research.

“We knew from previous projects that captive breeding is difficult; still, we were saddened by the loss of the birds," Moehrenschlager said Tuesday.

"Our team of animals care staff, veterinarians and researchers really looked hard at how and why we lost those nine birds; we asked ourselves some tough questions. In the end, we concluded that we can learn and we can improve. We will continue to consult with other experts, refine our procedures and adjust. We are confident we can succeed.”

He said the Calgary Zoo has had captive breeding success with whooping cranes, Vancouver Island marmots, black-footed ferrets, and swift fox.

“We are extremely pleased to have successfully transferred eggs to the zoo that were collected by Alberta Fish and Wildlife in the wild, to have had higher than anticipated hatch rates, and now to have two mature sage grouse here at our facility; frankly, this is more than we could have hoped for at the start of the year.”

Moehrenschlager said the zoo will spend more than $500,000 in 2015 of funding committed by Alberta Environment and Environment Canada on significant improvements to its breeding facilities.

He says the improvements also include animal care husbandry practices and conservation research.

The breeding program was announced in January after the Alberta and federal governments pledged $2.1 million each to the project, with the zoo contributing $1.1 million.

The federal government's emergency protection order for the sage grouse across parts of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan took effect in February.

The order primarily restricts industrial development on nearly 1,700 square kilometres of Crown land.

The order has received widespread criticism from ranchers and Conservative MP representing affected areas in both provinces.

(CFFR, The Canadian Press)