Photo: Gordon Court

We know that for many species, habitat protection alone is no longer enough to save them from extinction. In fact, a recent study found that more than half of all the planet’s threatened species will require species-specific actions, such as conservation breeding and reintroductions, to avoid extinction1.  The good news is that recovery actions like conservation breeding and release, reintroduction, and translocation exist, are being developed by WPC, and do save wildlife from extinction!

Take for example, the swift fox (Vulpes velox). Smaller than a house cat and known for its quick speed of up to 60 kilometers an hour, this fox was once driven to the brink of extinction. Persecution and loss of grassland habitats had completely wiped out the Canadian population in the 1930s. Loss of denning sites was particularly damaging given that swift foxes spend more time underground than any other canid species. After many years of searching, the species was declared extinct in Canada in 1978.

With population numbers dwindling across their range, a swift fox recovery program began in 1971 with surveys to determine best areas for reintroductions in Canada.  Released animals were sourced from conservation breeding facilities in Canada and translocated from some of the remaining wild U.S. populations. Wildlife Preservation Canada supported a conservation breeding program with the Cochrane Ecological Institute to produce foxes for release. At the same time research carried out by Axel and Cynthia Moehrenschlager focused on working closely with local landowners and farmers during the reintroduction to ensure that the fox was protected along with its grassland habitat. Camera-trapping and live-trapping monitored the success of conservation actions.

As a result of combined conservation efforts, the swift fox was re-established in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, returning the species back to Canadian grasslands many decades after they had been lost.

This is considered one of the most successful reintroduction programs in the  world.

The successful return of the swift fox perfectly demonstrates that joining in-situ and ex-situ conservation efforts increases the chance of saving many species from extinction compared to such actions in isolation. This “One Plan Approach” is promoted by the IUCN Conservation Planning Specialist Group. Integrated management strategies developed together by all conservation actors from the very beginning of the planning process ensures that all possible conservation actions are used most effectively. Thanks to the use of conservation breeding and releases within such a One Plan Approach we can once again enjoy the sight of the charming and fleet-of-foot swift fox in Canada’s prairie grasslands.

Timeline of swift fox (Vulpes velox) recovery

1  Bolam et al. 2023. Over half of threatened species require targeted recovery actions to avert human-induced extinction. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: 21(2) pp 64–70.

Stephanie Winton, the Canadian Species Initiative Coordinator gives a travelogue presentation on her experience working on reptile conservation projects in Mauritius as the 31st Canada’s New Noah.

We need your help

Donate to save endangered species