This week, we're shining the spotlight on Canada's most threatened flora and fauna; the ones that are at risk of no longer blooming, crawling, or running within our borders. Climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction are just some of the anthropogenic factors contributing to declining numbers of these plants and animals. Here, we reflect on the importance of species diversity, and what people like you and I can do to help maintain ecological integrity within Canada.
Common Name: Whooping Crane
Scientific Name: Grus americana
Where in Canada: Northwest Territories and Alberta
IUCN Status: Endangered
While whooping cranes were never numerous, they’re one of the longest living birds on this planet. In fact, fossils of their ancestors date back 3.5 million years ago, long before humans roamed the the earth.
Whooping Cranes are migratory birds that are native to Canada and United States (they used to be found in Mexico but are now regionally extinct). Standing at 1.5 meters tall, they are one of the tallest birds in North America.
The last count of whooping cranes took place in 2007, where there were an estimated 382 birds remaining in the wild. Of those remaining cranes, only 266 of them were capable of breeding in their nests located along the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Thanks to various conservation efforts, wild crane populations have increased at a rate of 4.2 percent annually over the past 20 years. It’s an astonishing feat considering that there were only an estimated 15-22 whooping cranes remaining in 1941.
Whooping cranes are particularly susceptible to human disturbances through habitat destruction and powerline development. The birds collide with powerlines causing death or injury to fledglings. While studies have shown that powerline markers have helped decrease collisions by 50-80 per cent, many powerlines remain ununmarked.
One successful conservation effort to save these cranes was led by George Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation. He successfully used human imprinting on a whooping crane named Tex.. Tex, a female, was able to enter a reproductive condition by copying the courtship dancing behavior ofs Archibald, who himself mimicked the behavior of a male crane. In the end, Tex -- who was artificially inseminated -- was able to hatch a fertile egg that became a young chick. For his success in this endeavor, Archibald was awarded the Douglas Pimlott Award in 2007 by Nature Canada.
Archibald should be an example for Canadian youth. Through dedication, persistence, and by thinking outside the box, an individual can make a profound impact in the fight to conserve endangered species. And all while doing a little dance, to make a little love.
You can learn more about species in Canada on the IUCN Red List by searching here.