Another great year for wildlife conservation.

As 2023 nears to a close and we plan for 2024 we have come up with our top 10 list of WPC’s conservation achievements for 2023. We have all been hearing throughout the past year that the world is now undergoing a biodiversity extinction crisis that could be every bit as harmful to our planet as climate change. WPC’s sole mission is to save Canadian species from extinction.  The hands-on interventions that we excel at are critical and needed now more than ever. Which is why we are happy to highlight 2023’s success stories! There is good news out there and important work being done for the smaller yet just as important species. Animals most in need of saving like western painted turtles, native bumble bees, Butler’s gartersnake, Oregon spotted frog, butterflies, and grassland songbirds like the eastern loggerhead, all highlighted in this list.

For those of you that already support WPC, thank you. You are making a difference. This year has been one of the most successful years for our conservation programs. If you are new to WPC, please consider how best you can support Canada’s wildlife, in whatever capacity you can.

Overflowing with bees

2023 was by far the best bumble bee breeding season on record. The conservation lab was overflowing with bees! Most exciting, the yellow-banded bumble bees in our care (a species-at-risk) produced 131 queens!! compared to our previous record of 3 queens in 2022. Our team has discovered how to breed this species in captivity, a major milestone for endangered bumble bee conservation. WPC is the only organization in Canada developing conservation breeding and release techniques to save bumble bees from extinction.

Endangered songbird served by dedicated team

The loggerhead shrike season was impacted by the lack of government funding this year, the 1st time since the beginning of the program that the government decided not to support shrike conservation. Despite this challenge, a reduced but highly dedicated field team kept the program running; monitoring and protecting field sites and wild nests that produced 37 wild fledglings, working with landowners, coordinating the conservation breeding team, coordinating cross-border partner management for this migratory species, and releasing 17 young conservation bred shrikes – all core actions recommended in the recovery plan for the species. We will never give up even when beset by setbacks.

Searching for native pollinators with local communities

WPC’s province wide bumble bee monitoring program covered 85 sites in southern and central Ontario. The team carried out 109 surveys and recorded 3156 bumble bees from 15 species. We trained 152 concerned Canadians from 10 different organizations on how to search for and identify bumble bees with events at Pinery Provincial Park, Rouge National Urban Park and the Claremont Nature Centre, This is the largest bumble bee monitoring program of its kind in the province, collecting critical information on distribution and population trends across Ontario.

Saving Butler’s gartersnake

The Ojibway Prairie team successfully overwintered Butler’s gartersnakes for the very 1st time in our specially designed artificial hibernacula at wild release sites. We then carried out experimental releases of 8 Butler’s gartersnakes to the LaSalle Woods Environmentally Significant Area as an initial step towards population augmentation. WPC is one of only two organizations in the world determining what is required to reintroduce endangered snakes in the northern hemisphere.

Butterflies back from the brink

This spring WPC released 1400 Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars at the reintroduction site on Hornby Island. The team documented the first observation of 2nd generation caterpillars produced by WPC released animals at the release site. Field staff observed more than 90 individual caterpillar clusters at varying stages of development, which is incredible news confirming that our releases are bringing checkerspots back from the brink of extinction.

Released painted turtles nesting in the wild

We raised and released a record number of 212 western painted turtles in B.C. this past summer. This was the highest number ever released for the recovery program in the province. Across all release sites, we observed a total of 36 nests laid by WPC’s head-started individuals! This is a huge jump from 7 nests in 2022, and confirmation that the release turtles are reaching breeding age and contributing to saving their species from extinction.

Released mottled duskywings becoming established in wild

The duskywing team observed 120 wild adult mottled duskywing butterflies during spring surveys, evidence that the reintroduced population is becoming sustainable. Mating and egg laying in these adult butterflies were observed as well, further proof that the releases have been a success. To further boost the reintroduced population, the recovery team released an additional134 butterflies this spring and summer. Monitoring and releases will continue at Pinery Provincial Park, ON in 2024 by which time we expect this reintroduction to have been a pioneering success for butterfly conservation in Canada.

Global ground-breaking treatment of deadly amphibian fungus

In December of 2022 WPC’s breeding colony of Oregon spotted frogs was attacked by an invasive fungus called chytrid that has been decimating global frog populations. Chytrid is one of the leading causes of frog extinctions around the world. The B.C. team had to react quickly and develop new treatment methods, as no one had ever attempted to treat frogs for chytrid during the winter. Long hours and quick thinking resulted in all treated frogs surviving. This novel treatment can now be used by other conservation programs to save endangered frogs around the world.

Massasauga overwintering success for 2nd year in a row

WPC successfully hibernated 12 eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in our innovative artificial hibernacula for the second year in a row with 100% survival in good health at future release sites at the Ojibway Prairie, ON. We also secured permission under the Endangered Species Act to begin conservation translocations with massasaugas in the summer of 2024. This is a major leap forward for Canada’s only snake reintroduction program.

Oregon spotted frog releases

After development of a new method to treat frogs for the chytrid fungus, WPC staff successfully cleared all frogs of infection in time for the breeding season. Despite the possibility of a setback from the winter treatment, our indomitable female frogs produced 6,000 tadpoles and 364 froglets for release to the restored wetlands in the Fraser Valley. The spotted frog team recorded a fourth consecutive year of egg laying by WPC released frogs at the reintroduction site, with a year over year increase in number of egg masses, indicating that WPC’s conservation breeding and release program is bringing the species back from the brink.

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