Wildlife

Toronto Zoo welcomes a baby orangutan

Plus: the albatross that loved Vancouver Island, a rare butterfly comeback, PEI lobsters to take a new kind of bait and the migratory birds on a potentially fatal collision course.

Toronto zoo welcomes a baby orangutan. (Photo: Toronto Zoo via Instagram)
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It’s a boy! The Toronto Zoo has announced the birth of a new baby Sumatran orangutan, marking the first orangutan to be born at the zoo in over 15 years. This latest addition to the zoo is not only adorable but important, as the species remains critically endangered. With fewer than 15,000 left in the wild, the new baby is a key part of the Toronto Zoo’s conservation work.

Last fall, the zoo announced that Sekali, a 29-year-old orangutan, was expecting a new baby in her family. This is Sekali’s second offspring and the first for father Budi, a 15-year-old male.

After a 243-day pregnancy, Sekali gave birth to her new, healthy son. Thanks to the zoo’s wildlife care team and 24-hour camera surveillance, a video of her smooth delivery shows Sekali’s motherly instincts after the birth. In a news release, the zoo described how Sekali immediately held the baby against her body, cleaned it and showed concern. 

While the baby’s name and a date for when the public can finally meet him remain unknown, the new release confirms that both mom and son are happy and healthy.  

Sekali’s son was born just in time for the Zoo’s new outdoor orangutan habitat, which will open later this year. As the only facility in Canada to house Sumatran orangutans, the new addition raises the Toronto Zoo’s orangutan count to 13 since 1974.

Home Birds

The short-tailed albatross is also known as Stellar’s albatross, and ranges across the North Pacific, from Japan and Russia to California, U.S.. (Photo: Leary Pete, USFWS/Pixnio)
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For over four millennia, the short-tailed albatross just couldn’t get enough of Vancouver Island, B.C., according to a new study that found the mighty travelling birds kept returning to the island to feed each year before they were driven to the verge of extinction by feather hunters. 

While their ranges span thousands of kilometres of North Pacific ocean, short-tailed albatross still preferred certain hunting and feeding grounds. The study, published in the journal Communications Biology, analysed the bones of albatross found during archeological digs in Vancouver Island — including at a Mowachaht Nuu-chah-nulth village on Nootka Island — the U.S., Russia and Japan, piecing together migration patterns using chemical traces preserved in the birds’ bones. As a result, researchers were able to map out the migration and feeding pattern of the short-tailed albatross over 4,250 years. 

With a wingspan exceeding two metres and once numbering in the millions, they were almost wiped out by hunters between the 1880s and 1930s, with no functioning breeding colonies in the North Pacific left behind. Now, the seabird’s population is slowly being regained, but are still at less than one per cent of their previous levels. The researchers hope this new insight will help inform ongoing conservation efforts. 

You butter believe I can fly

After years of researchers believing the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly was extinct, the rare species is making a comeback. (Photo: Ted Thomas/USFWS [CC BY 2.0])
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Small, mighty and beating the odds. After years of researchers believing the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly was extinct, the rare species is making a comeback — but not without the help of some passionate conservationists in British Columbia.

In 1990, the Taylor’s checkerspot seemed to vanish from Canada, and for nearly 15 years went unseen. Before its disappearance, the butterfly had commonly resided in the Greater Victoria area, but small groups were spotted once again on Denman Island in 2005 and south of Campbell River in 2018. These sightings provided the glimmer of hope needed to motivate a massive reintroduction effort on Denman Island and its neighbour, Hornby Island.

In March, more than 5,400 larvae were released by park staff and volunteers at B.C.’s Helliwell Provincial Park, located on Hornby’s south eastern tip. If successful, Canada will be re-introduced to more of the rare black, orange and white patterned wings of the Taylor’s Checkerspot in late April.

Take the bait

A new and innovative bait for lobster fishing has fishermen across North America hookedPhoto: Jeremy Bezanger/Unsplash
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The federal Fisheries Department’s announced the closing of the Atlantic mackerel and commercial bait fisheries in late March due to concerns that dwindling stocks have entered a “critical zone.” (Photo: Richard Bell/Unsplash)
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A new and innovative bait for lobster fishing has fishermen across North America hooked. The alternative bait proves to be a more sustainable option that lasts longer and creates less waste.

As lobster fishermen, Mark Prevost and Wally MacPhee were aware of the necessity to address sustainability issues in the fishing industry when they invented “the bait sausage” in 2017. The product is now destined to take off after the federal Fisheries Department’s late March announcement of the closing of the Atlantic mackerel and commercial bait fisheries due to concerns that dwindling stocks have entered a “critical zone.”

The recipe for a bait sausage may not sound very appealing, but its environmental benefits are. Each sausage uses just 20 to 25 per cent whole mackerel and herring, with the other 75 per cent a blend of ground haddock racks, fish byproducts and oils wrapped up in a biodegradable casing. 

Traditional bait that uses 100 per cent mackerel and herring are experiencing a decrease in availability and an increase in cost. It is also wasted by erosion and eaten by sand fleas. However, Prevost and MacPhee’s process turns 10 pounds of mackerel and herring into 40 pounds of bait, making it more sustainable and easier to make a bulk amount of bait in little time.

Recently there has been a steep increase in orders for their invention, ensuring a more sustainable fishing future, one bait sausage at a time. Prevost said their current facility can make between 1.6 and 1.7 million pounds of the more sustainable bait in a year, and they are ready to expand and open another facility if need be.

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An ill wind

northern gannet
North America’s northern gannets could be on a collision course with a wind farm. (Photo: suju-foto/Pixabay)
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North America’s northern gannets breed in southern Canada, zipping down the coast at speeds of up to 100 km per hour to overwinter at sea from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. 

And they’re set on a high-speed collision course for some 17 offshore wind sites in development from Cape Cod in the north to North Carolina’s Outer Banks in the south, according to an article in the spring edition of Audubon magazine.

Though the massive structures are an obstacle for all birds migrating along the coast, scientists are worried that gannets may be especially vulnerable. They tend to look at the ocean below as they migrate, rather than on obstacles in front of them, while also preferring to fly at the same height as a turbine’s rotor sweep zone.

At the same time, studies have shown that while some gannets will forage amid turbines, most tend to avoid them altogether. “It seems counterintuitive that gannets could be at both collision and displacement risks,” said wildlife biologist Shilo Felton, field manager for Audubon’s Clean Energy Initiative, “but research suggests it’s true.”

Still, scientists worry that climate change, and its impacts on the gannets’ food supply and habitat, is an even greater risk than the turbines. “We have such a hard time grasping how big a problem climate change is that it’s sometimes easier to focus on the immediate risk of a structure in the water,” Felton says. “These birds are going to lose all of their habitat if the planet keeps warming. They need clean energy, but they are going to be threatened by it. The best we can do is minimize that threat.”

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