Wildlife Wednesday: does Canada need to cull wolves to save ‘baby reindeer’?

Plus: Canada’s favourite baby orca finally free, turkeys run wild in Quebec, giant prehistoric sabre-toothed salmon renamed, and Toronto Zoo is expecting a snow leopard-shaped bundle of joy

(Photo: NPS Photo/Katherine Belcher)
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Caribou populations in Alberta and British Columbia have been dwindling since 1991, but a new study has found a way to start bringing them back.

For years, conservationists have been experimenting with different ways of increasing caribou populations. Then, by comparing different methods that have been tried in isolation, scientists can analyze specific caribou populations to determine which strategies are most effective.

Unfortunately for wolves, the report suggests that the only effective way of increasing caribou populations was by killing predatory wolves, presenting conservationists with a catch-22.

“Shooting wolves to save another species is an incredibly difficult decision,” Clayton Lamb, wildlife scientist and study author told CBC News.

Since the wolf cull was launched in 2015, documents from a freedom of information request obtained by the CBC showed that almost 2,000 wolves have been killed in this conservation effort.

As of now, the wolf cull is planned to continue until 2026 with the intent of killing 244 wolves every year according to B.C.’s Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship.

Conservationists say the biggest threat to caribou populations is human activity and development, not other species.

Brave Little Hunter

Hélène Surmont/Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED]
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After four weeks of being trapped in a B.C. lagoon, the Ehattesaht First Nation has reported that kʷiisaḥiʔis (pronounced kwee-sa-hay-is) or Brave Little Hunter, is finally free.

On March 23, the two-year-old orca became trapped in a tidal lagoon near Zeballow on Vancouver Island, B.C., after her pregnant mother died on the beach during low tide. For several weeks, DFO marine mammal experts, First Nations members, and other groups attempted to free the baby orca, but all of the multiple rescue missions were unsuccessful. 

Rescuers used loud noises, recorded orca vocalizations, and even the music of a violinist to try to coax the calf out of the lagoon, but in the end, kʷiisaḥiʔis saved herself. 

The issue now, however, is that the young orca needs to be reunited with her pod. At this age, experts say that the baby orca is still dependent on others for food, but they don’t want her to be reliant on humans. Dr. Chloe Robinson, the Director of Whales Initiative with Ocean Wise, told CBC News that even if kʷiisaḥiʔis does not find her immediate family, other transient orcas may let her “tag along at a distance.” 


Turkey Vs. Quebec

Photo: CC0 Public Domain
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A wild turkey smashed a second-floor window and broke into a Beauceville, Que. long-term care home, causing chaos and raising questions. The turkey wreaked havoc on an empty nursing station at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 13 before staff at the CHSLD de Beauceville closed the door, trapping the bird in the room. The CISSS de Chaudière-Appalaches, the area’s regional health authority, said the turkey had no other option but to leave how it came in. 

Locals warn that this is the latest sign that the wild turkey population is becoming a serious problem in central Quebec, and some farmers are asking for an ease of hunting restrictions to control the birds. 

“There is an overabundance of turkeys and they are causing damage,” James Allen, president of the Union des producteurs agricoles de Chaudière-Appalaches told CBC News. 

He says the increase in wild turkeys is harming farmers’ crops and causing financial losses, adding that it seems to be getting worse over the last five years. Without some response, Quebec farmers are worried that a turkey in a care home is just the beginning. 

New face on the block

The spike-toothed salmon is compared to the largest living salmon and a six-foot-tall fisherman. (Photo: Ray Troll [CC-BY 4.0])
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Five million years ago 2.7-metre-long salmon lived along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Known as the sabre-toothed salmon, it was thought to have two large teeth curving vertically out of its mouth, giving it the sabre-tooth name. However, the discovery of two new fossilised skulls threw it all into question. 

A recent study in PLOS One explained that the two new skulls revealed that the teeth protruded horizontally from the fish instead, acting more like tusks than fangs. The salmon, now dubbed the ‘spike-toothed salmon’, likely used these teeth for both nest building and defence against predators and other dangers. 

Discovered in Oregon in the 1970s, the previously unearthed fossils of this giant salmon were all found with the teeth separate from the skull, leading researchers to believe the teeth were vertical. However, the discovery of the new skulls with the teeth still attached showed they protruded horizontally, meaning a name change was in order. 

A little snow on the way

Expectant mother, Jita. (Photo: courtesy Toronto Zoo)
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Toronto Zoo is expecting a little snow this May! No, not the weather — a snow leopard cub.

Jita, the zoo’s three-year old female snow leopard, is pregnant for the first time after a case of love at first sight upon being introduced to nine-year-old Pemba, the expectant father. The two were introduced in early February and were observed breeding multiple times on Feb. 6 and 7. With snow leopard gestation lasting between 90 and 110 days, the birth could happen any day now. 

While the news is exciting, some caution is advised. First-time pregnancies in large carnivores often come with challenges, as inexperienced mothers may not always know what to do. While Pemba has in the past fathered six litters, medical complications meant none of the cubs survived.

With this in mind, the zoo’s snow leopard care team say they are busy making preparations to ensure a welcome outcome, conducting ongoing ultrasounds to monitor Jita’s progress.

The news is especially welcome due to the fact that snow leopards are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN red list. Through their participation in the cooperative snow leopard Species Survival Plan, which is jointly ran by accredited North American facilities, the zoo hopes to contribute to the species’ conservation.

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