by Jonathan Choquette
Lead Biologist, Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery Program
The Massasauga Rattlesnakes found in the Ojibway Prairie Complex and Greater Park Ecosystem in Ontario’s Windsor-LaSalle region are isolated from other Canadian populations by over 300 km. As the only population in Canada to live in tallgrass prairie habitat, they are ecologically and genetically unique. Unfortunately, their range has plummeted 95% over the last 40 years, due to a history of habitat destruction, road mortality, intentional killing and illegal collection for the pet trade. The population is now on the brink of extinction, with fewer than 20 individuals remaining in tAchiehe wild.
As we review the 2017 season, we are excited by what we have achieved since 2013, when we began implementing conservation actions recommended in the Recovery Strategy for the Massasauga in Canada.
- Investment of over 1000 person–hours in the field annually in order to monitor reptile populations, assess threats and increase surveillance of key habitat features.
- Submission of over 200 Species at Risk observations each year to provincial databases, therefore increasing habitat protection.
- Surveying of over 1000 km of roads annually to document road mortality hotspots and guide mitigation projects. We installed over 375m of barrier fencing in 2016 and 2017 in order to prevent reptile road mortality.
- Enhancement of over 9ha of Massasauga habitat via removal of invasive plants and creation of over 100 woody debris structures for Massasauga shelter and gestation (birthing). We confirmed that pregnant female Massasaugas used the artificial gestation sites we created in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
- Delivery of over 340 Massasauga stewardship packages to nearby residents and reaching an additional 200 people per year via public outreach efforts. With the help of our partners, we installed 6 Massasauga habitat signs, 1 interpretive panel, and 8 wildlife crossing signs at roadkill hotspots.
Our goal is to not only stem the tide of extinction of the Ojibway population of Massasauga rattlesnakes from one of the rarest ecosystems in Canada, but to ensure that they survive and thrive!