As this blog is being written, the Ojibway Prairie Massasauga team is listening to Monster Mass and Thriller while doing office work. Hopefully everyone reading this is feeling the Halloween spirit as much as we are!

Those of you who’ve been following the Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery Program, be it as a dedicated fan or just a casual observer, know that the Ojibway Prairie population of Eastern Massasaugas is at the lowest size it’s been in decades. Basically, with an abundance of fewer than 25 individuals, it is not considered viable; the incredibly small size of this population places it at very high risk of local extinction. Spooky!

Figure 1. This is Chunks the Massasauga dressed as a witch for Halloween. She is one of the few remaining female Eastern Massasaugas in the Ojibway Prairie population, and the only one known to have birthed new individuals into the population over the last two years. (Photo Credit: Wildlife Preservation Canada).

Figure 2. Schematic representation of the decline in distribution of the Ojibway Prairie population of Eastern Massasaugas from 1975 to 2015. Current distribution of the population is estimated to be as little as 14 ha, representing a 99% decline in distribution since the mid-1970s.

Local extinctions are worth preventing because of their collective impact. Eventually, the loss of a sufficient number of populations will cause an entire species to disappear. The Ojibway Prairie population represents the second-last remaining colony of Eastern Massasaugas within the Carolinian region of Canada. Its disappearance would mark a dramatic loss in the Canadian distribution, ecological variation and genetic diversity of this species, and would bring us one step closer to losing Eastern Massasaugas from within our borders.

Rescuing the Ojibway Prairie population by supplementing it with new animals remains one of the last remaining options to keep the prairie-loving reptiles alive. One-off translocation events have failed in the past, therefore we need a sustained effort over many years to increase our chances of success. A captive breeding colony could theoretically produce a steady supply of snakes. But where does one find a suitable source to establish such a colony, especially when dealing with a legally protected species?  Great problems require great partnerships.

Wildlife Preservation Canada has joined forces with four amazing partners to devise a solution to this important conservation problem. The Toronto Zoo, Scales Nature Park, Savanta Inc. and Henvey Inlet First Nation, in partnership with our recovery team, are working together to develop the Massasauga Conservation Breeding Program. The goal of this program is to secure and maintain a captive breeding population capable of producing a reliable, adequate and healthy supply of captive-bred animals for the rescue of struggling Canadian populations of Eastern Massasaugas. Representatives from each group met recently in Orillia, Ontario to strategize on key details relating to the development of the captive breeding colony, namely the securement of a key federal permit and the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding between all parties clearly identifying roles and contributions of each member.

Figure 3. Snake enclosures like the ones seen here may one day soon grace the shelves of Canada’s first dedicated Massasauga Conservation Breeding Program (Photo Credit – Wildlife Preservation Canada).

A mutual recognition of the importance of conserving this oft-maligned species was the glue that bonded the newly formed partnership, and the excitement about achieving this important milestone was felt around the table. Although still in the early stages, the development of the Massasauga Conservation Breeding Program is moving along quicker than all parties anticipated, and its eventual achievement holds great promise for the future of Eastern Massasaugas in Canada.

This is the Ojibway Prairie Massasauga team’s last blog post of the 2018 field season. As it gets colder and the snakes find suitable overwintering sites, the team transitions into the “office work season”. With an amazing summer working with these cryptic animals coming to a close, data entry and our hibernation habitat study become the top priority. Click here to learn about our hibernation habitat study.

 

 

From all of us on the Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery team, have a Happy Halloween and a wonderful winter season!

Jonathan Choquette, Jennifer Barden and Kaitlyn Hall.

Oct 31st, 2018