Going, going….gone: Which animals are on the brink and how can we save them?

There are 700 species at risk of extinction. Which animals are on the brink and how can we save them?

Canada has such a rich biodiversity that it can be surprising to hear that more than 700 species are at risk of extinction. But sadly it’s true. While the future may seem bleak for these species, it doesn’t mean things can’t change for the better. Just look, for instance, at the Peregrine Falcon, White-top Aster, Buffalograss and the Shorthead Sculpin — their situations have all improved!

Let’s see if we can turn things around for these species below that are currently assessed as Endangered by Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a committee that provides advice to government on the status of wildlife species at risk of extinction.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

leatherback sea turtle
There are many threats facing this species including a high predation rate on hatchlings, egg poachers, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with boats and marine pollution.

(Atlantic population + Pacific population)

Leatherback Sea Turtles evolved around 100 million years ago — that’s right, they were around when dinosaurs were alive! They are named after their leathery shell which is different from the hard shells of other sea turtles. They can weigh as much as 900 kilograms, making them the largest living sea turtle. Their main prey is jellyfish. Instead of teeth they have cusps that they use to grab their prey. Their esophageal tract is lined with sharp spines that work to shred jellyfish into pieces. There are many threats facing this species including a high predation rate on hatchlings, egg poachers, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with boats and marine pollution.

Little Brown Myotis

little brown bat
It’s hard to believe that not long ago, this was the most common bat species in Canada. But since 2010, their population has declined by 94 per cent from Nova Scotia to Ontario.


The Little Brown Myotis weighs between seven and nine grams, about the weight of eight standard paper clips! Females are slightly larger than males but otherwise they look the same. They can be found in all provinces and territories of Canada, although there are only occasional records for Nunavut. They do not usually migrate outside of Canada, but can travel up to 1,000 kilometres between their summer roosts and winter roosts.

It’s hard to believe that not long ago, this was the most common bat species in Canada. But since 2010, their population has declined by 94 per cent from Nova Scotia to Ontario. The cause — white-nose syndrome. This disease is caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans. It is believed to have originated from Europe and brought over by cave explorers. The fungus grows on their nose and other non-furred areas during their hibernation. This causes bats to wake more often than usual which rapidly uses up their fat reserves. Along with the impact this fungus has had on two other bat species, this is considered by some scientists to be the most rapid decline of mammals ever recorded. Other threats faced by the Little Brown Myotis include habitat loss and pesticides.

Burrowing Owl

burrowing owl profile
As of 2015, the Canadian population is estimated at about 270 individuals.


Burrowing Owls are smaller than a pigeon, standing about 20 centimetres in height and weighing between 125 and 185 grams. The main Prairie population breeds in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but they can also be found in very low numbers in southwestern Manitoba. There is also a small reintroduced population in southcentral British Columbia. They have a preference for dry short-grass prairie and use abandoned burrows of ground-dwelling mammals including prairie dogs and ground squirrels for nesting, resting and storing food.

Over the past 40 years, this species faced a significant decrease in density. While the conversion of grassland to cropland may have been a significant factor for their past decline, their current threats include loss of prey, severe weather and impacts from the expansion of renewable energy. As of 2015, the Canadian population is estimated at about 270 individuals.

Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee


Gypsy Cuckoo Bumblebees measure 12 to 18 millimetres in length. They have been found in every province and territory in Canada, except for Nunavut. However, since 1991, they have only been recorded in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Their habitats include mixed farmlands, open meadows, urban areas and the boreal forest. An interesting fact about this bumble bee is that they don’t have worker bees. Mated females instead find a host nest and after killing the host queen, she lays her eggs which are then looked after by the host worker bees. The main threat to this bumble bee is the loss of host bumble bee populations including the Rusty-patched Bumble bee, Yellow-banded Bumble Bee and the Western Bumble Bee; species that are also listed as at-risk by COSEWIC.

North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic right whale
Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the most common causes of death for these animals and now less than 450 individuals remain in the world.


The North Atlantic Right Whale grows to about 16 metres in length, with females measuring about one metre longer than males, and they can weigh up to 63,500 kilograms. That’s twice the weight of a transport truck and the same length as one! They come to Atlantic Canada to feed on zooplankton.

In 2017, 12 North Atlantic Right Whales died in Canadian waters representing what is likely the highest mortality event for this species since commercial whaling was banned in 1937. Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are the most common causes of death for these animals and now less than 450 individuals remain in the world.

Monarch Butterfly

monarch butterfly
The main threats facing this species in Canada include the use of herbicides and the loss of milkweeds.


I think most of us are familiar with the Monarch Butterfly – that iconic orange and black butterfly. They are found in all ten provinces and the Northwest Territories. Eastern Monarchs overwinter in the mountains of Central Mexico whereas western Monarchs overwinter in coastal California. Milkweeds are extremely important as it is the only food plant for Monarch caterpillars. The chemicals found in milkweeds make the caterpillars and adults unpleasant tasting to many birds. The main threats facing this species in Canada include the use of herbicides and the loss of milkweeds.

Let’s change the seemingly bleak future for these, and all species at risk. It’s happened before, let’s do it again!

Rescued At-Risk Turtle Eggs Are Now Hatching!

Our Turtle Eggs Are Hatching!

This summer, our Conservation Science team has been conducting field work on pollinators, eels, bats and turtles (to name only a few projects!).

Added to the regular turtle surveying, our team collected the eggs of at-risk turtles (Blanding’s and Snapping) laid along roadsides. Roadsides may seem suitable to turtles as they look for open areas of sand or soil to bury eggs. Sadly, the eggs that are laid there have a high risk of being destroyed. So, our turtle team were out at all hours patiently gathering eggs once females had done their duty and left. (Please don’t try this at home as special permits and expertise are needed!)

Now, many weeks later, our little turtles are hatching quickly. Once all the eggs from a nest are hatched, the young will be released together in the area they were laid — only this time they will be a safe distance from the road!

CWF staff and interns have been in awe of these little wonders. We are proud to be a part of helping these at-risk-species, even if indirectly (watch our live turtle cam feed below!).

CWF’s Role in Freshwater Turtle Conservation

The Canadian Wildlife Federation continues to work with regional partners, community groups, lake associations and individuals to reduce risks to turtles. We continue to carry out on the ground surveys to document at-risk turtle locations and HELP PROTECT their habitat. We have also undertaken an analysis of hotspots where turtles are more susceptible to being hit on the road. Finally, we continue to work with partners to outfit turtles with radio transmitters to track movement, habitat use, nesting sites and overwintering sites.

Turtle Eggs Hatching

All of our eggs hatched! We have released them back into the wild. This video is a recording of a batch of snapping turtles as they worked hard to hatch.

Learn more about freshwater turtles at HelpTheTurtles.ca

WANTED: Giant Lacewing! Report to iNaturalist on Your Nearest Device

We need your help to track down the Giant Lacewing (Polystoechotes punctata).

Giant lacewing wanted poster
Download and post on your favourite social media channel!

The Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) are looking for this elusive species. It is an insect that kind of looks like a cross between a fly and a moth.

The experts at COSEWIC will be assessing its status. We are looking to citizen scientists to report any potential observation of this species to iNaturalist Canada.


iNaturalist is a wildlife observation reporting tool that anyone can use. The free mobile app for Android or iOS is easy to use. Or you can add an observation directly on the website at iNaturalist.ca.

It’s very important that a good photo is submitted along with the observation since experts will need this to confirm the species. Equally important is the location you saw it, which the app will automatically add if your phone’s GPS is turned on.

What, Where and When

The Giant Lacewing was once widespread in Canada and beyond. However, it hasn’t been seen in the eastern parts of North America since the 1950’s. But the experts are optimistic it still exists here, just that it hasn’t been seen or reported. Here’s what to look for:

  • A mostly black insect that is between 2.5 to and 4 cm centimetres (about 1 to 2.5 inches) long
  • Mottled wings, which are held tent-like over the insect’s body
  • Most likely to be found in more remote areas
  • Attracted to artificial lights, such as light posts, outdoor restrooms and buildings.
  • Most common time of year to spot one is mid-June through to early August.

Experts from Canada and around the world are using iNaturalist to keep track of where species are found. This is a valuable opportunity for anyone to contribute directly to species conservation decisions — like this assessment of the Giant Lacewing.

turtle mobileNot Just Lacewings

Any observation of wildlife — animals, plants, fungi, molluscs and fish — is a valuable contribution to the knowledge of Canada’s biodiversity. Plus with iNaturalist.ca you can keep track of what you’ve seen and search the map for what others have found. iNaturalist can even help you with identifying what you’ve seen with its instant auto identification feature.

Learn more about iNaturalist.ca and other ways to connect with wildlife.


Both an End and a Beginning for Almonte’s Bats

We released our Big Brown Bats!!

If you haven’t been following the story, these hibernators were evicted last December from a 50-plus year roost. It was also their winter hibernacula. This fact alone made the untimely eviction particularly detrimental to their survival. However, with the help from the community, CWF supporters and the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (RVWS), the big brown bats overwintered in special ‘bat fridges’ and were ready to be released in the spring.

bat house installation
It is important to know that Canadian bats, especially these Big Browns, exhibit a high degree of site fidelity so they will always return to their primary roost.

No Room

Unfortunately, the church management was unwilling to support our initiative to provide an alternative roosting site. This made mitigating the impact of this eviction particularly challenging. Ideally, we would have installed the bat houses on church property but instead had to find a suitable location near the church.

With the help of Mississippi Mills Mayor Shaun McLaughlin, and Calvin Murphy, Municipal Recreation Manager, the Canadian Wildlife Federation found a suitable location at the Almonte Curling Club, immediately beside the church.

Home, Sweet Home

releasing bats into new CWF bat houseThis spring, my colleagues and I went to Mississippi Mills, Ontario, to release the rescued bats that spent the winter with Linda Laurus and the RVWS.

The bats were released into the bat houses without incident. They were friendly, chatting the whole time, and very excited to get back to their old stomping grounds. The Big Browns are now supporting the local ecosystem by keeping the night-flying insects in check.

In addition to the bat houses installed at the Almonte Curling Club, the Mississippi River Parkway Commission also voted to install a big bat condo at the Metcalfe Geoheritage Park. This area offers important foraging habitat for local bats. The installation will make a great engagement and educational piece for the community.

Nature’s Pesticide

It is very important for our communities to understand the role of bats. They are nature’s pesticide, saving the agricultural industry millions each year by eating pesky bugs. Also, it’s important to understand the role we all play in conserving them.

This installation represents a great opportunity to arrange informative sessions to educate the community on our local bat species and how to monitor roost activity. This way, individuals in the community develop the techniques to monitor and report on endangered species roosting on their own properties.

They Really Do Need Our Help

The majority of Ontario’s bat species are endangered, and the rest are on their way. Their population growth is too slow to compete with current and future stressors. We need to act. These alternative roosts are an important step in the right direction.

It is quite apparent that the Canadian Wildlife Federation could not have succeeded in our efforts to save these bats without the help of the RVWS, our donors, facilitators at the municipality of Mississippi Mills, and the local community. This story is a testament to a great and resourceful community that is happy to help during difficult times. Initiatives like this are what really makes a difference for species in need of a helping hand. The results from this community rescue have a direct and lasting impact on our local landscape.

Special thanks to: Linda Laurus (Director of the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary), Jefferson Drost (Homes4Wildlife), Pascal Meunier (Fire Chief, Mississippi Mills), Shaun McLaughlin (Mayor, Mississippi Mills), Calvin Murphy (Municipal Recreation Manager), Scott Newton (Mississippi River Power Corp.).


Greener Pastures

Did you know that our native, wild prairie grasslands are at risk?

Grasslands are the most endangered terrestrial ecosystem in the world. They support a high level of biodiversity. In Saskatchewan alone, there are 31 known species at risk in the prairie pastures, including Burrowing Owl, Swift Fox, Black-footed Ferret, Sprague’s Pipit, and Greater Sage Grouse.

The province of Saskatchewan manages almost two million acres of wild prairie under its community pasture program. The total size of these pastures are 1.25 times bigger than Prince Edward Island and include some of the largest remnants of protected native prairie remaining in the world.

PFRA Community Pastures

However, the Saskatchewan Pastures Program is soon ending and the provincial government may sell off approximately one third of the pastures. The Saskatchewan government is inviting participation from the public on how former Saskatchewan Pastures Program pasture land will be owned and operated in the future.

As a part of this process, an online Saskatchewan government survey is available until May 8. You are invited to provide your input.

Before completing the public opinion survey, it would be beneficial to learn more about the history of the Saskatchewan Pastures Program and potential options for the future use of the 50 parcels of land.

Background information is available through the Government of Saskatchewan website. Once you’ve reviewed the information, you are encouraged to fill out the survey: https://gos.fluidsurveys.com/s/pastures

The Canadian Wildlife Federation also encourages you fill in the comment section.

CWF believes these pastures should remain as public lands. We also believe that the pastures should not be subdivided and should be managed for biodiversity values. Responsible livestock grazing is a key element to managing these pastures for biodiversity.

© Andrea Halwas-Larsen | CWF Photo Club

You can read more about CWF’s positions by following our blogs or emailing carolync@cwf-fcf.org.

Don’t forget to watch and share the Hinterland Who’s Who vignettes on the grasslands.

And that’s just a start.

Stay tuned for more news and updates from our Greener Pastures blog series.

CWF and Energy Ottawa #HelpTheEels

American Eels were once the most plentiful fish in the Ottawa River. Today, they are endangered.

It is estimated that less than one per cent of the historic population of American Eels remains in the Ottawa River. Dams are the biggest problem because they block both upstream and downstream migration. Juvenile eels have trouble making their way over dams as they move upstream, and larger, mature eels often die as they travel through turbines during downstream migration.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has been working with Energy Ottawa to tackle this problem. Over the next three years, we will be studying eels in the Ottawa River to better understand eel migration, and evaluate the effectiveness of the screens and bypass channels being installed by Energy Ottawa to improve eel mortality.

Listen to this:

Why are eels so important?

When the most abundant species in an ecosystem virtually disappears, that signals a major problem. Eels may not get much attention, but they are an important part of the river ecosystem. The health of eels in the Ottawa River directly impacts the commercial fishery in Atlantic Canada. Plus, American Eels can become prey to other fish and birds at any point in their life-cycle.

Join our effort to #HelpTheEels by sharing this graphic with your friends and family. Education and awareness is an important step in conserving Canada’s endangered species.

A Bad Deal for the American Eel

Did you know…

  • In 2008, the American eel was listed as Endangered under the Ontario Endangered Species Act.
  • The American Eel is the only fish in North America that is born in the ocean, matures in freshwater, and then returns to the ocean to spawn. Mature eels swim 5,000 kilometres to spawn in the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda.
  • Energy Ottawa’s new facility at Chaudière Falls in Quebec has screens and two bypass channels offering safe passage around the turbines. Energy Ottawa is also installing a ladder to help elvers migrate upstream.

To learn more about the American Eel, check out our Hinterland Who’s Who fact sheet.

This post was written by Deyra Jaye Fontaine with support from Nick Lapointe, Senior Conservation Biologist at the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

We could lose 2.3 million acres of prairie habitat if we don’t act now

In 2013, Canada made a promise to the world: that we would protect 17 per cent of terrestrial habitat and inland water in our country by 2020. We currently protect 10 per cent of the land in Canada, but we can do so much more – starting with conserving our prairie grasslands.

The federal government is the midst of transferring ownership of 2.3 million acres of critical prairie habitat. This area is known as the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) community pastures. They were created in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba following the drought and economic depression of the 1930s. The goal was to restore and manage fragile grasslands in the region, including preventing the spread of invasive alien plants and monitoring the area for species at risk. Today, these 87 community pastures are being transferred from federal ownership to the provinces without plans for protection.

PFRA Community Pastures
Over 80 per cent of native prairie has been lost in Canada, and the PFRA community pastures represent a large portion of what remains.

Normally, local management would be something to celebrate; however, these provinces have not committed any funding to protect the species at risk relying on community pastures for food and shelter. In fact, Saskatchewan announced early on that they would like to sell the properties.

There are more than 30 endangered species on the community pastures. What’s more, temperate grasslands are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. At CWF, we’re very concerned about the fate of our native grasslands and the at-risk species they support if the plan is to sell off community pastures for private interest. These lands must be protected.

Species at risk on community pastures include the Swift Fox, Greater Sage Grouse, Monarch Butterfly, Burrowing Owl, Northern Leopard Frog, and Black-footed Ferret. Many other plants and animals are also in danger of extinction, including pollinators such as the Western Bumble Bee and the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee.
Species at risk on community pastures include the Swift Fox, Greater Sage Grouse, Monarch Butterfly, Burrowing Owl, Northern Leopard Frog, and Black-footed Ferret. Many other plants and animals are also in danger of extinction, including pollinators such as the Western Bumble Bee and the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee.

Last month, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna met with her counterparts from each of the provinces to discuss Canada’s conservation targets. Conserving the PFRA community pastures should be a key part of Canada’s plan to protect biodiversity and species at risk. Conservation of the PFRA pastures can happen in partnership with the ranchers that have grazed cattle on these lands over decades. Grazing is key to maintaining the wild prairie. Placing these lands in protection is possible, and critical to ensuring that they continue to be wild prairie in perpetuity.

Join me in letting environment ministers know that we believe conserving our prairie grasslands is a priority for Canada.

We can protect 2.3M acres of critical habitat for #SpeciesAtRisk by urging provinces to conserve community pastures.

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Together, we can ensure that our wildlife and wild spaces are protected for generations to come.

Save Space in Your Heart for These Species at Risk

We all appreciate wildlife, but there are a few species that could use some extra love this Valentine’s Day.

The Monarch Butterfly, American Eel, Barren-ground Caribou, and Burrowing Owl are just a few Canadian species facing some serious challenges. Read on to find out what’s causing these threats. We hope you’ll be inspired to save a space in your heart for Canadian wildlife this Valentine’s Day.

Monarch Butterfly (COSEWIC Status: Endangered)

Monarch Butterfly

Every year, the Monarch Butterfly makes a gruelling 4,000 kilometre migratory trek to its wintering grounds and back. That’s like completing 95 marathons! Besides sheer exhaustion, these majestic butterflies are struggling to find a place to land when they reach Mexico (as their habitat is being robbed by deforestation). And in Canada and the United States? Agriculture and citizens spray their crops and gardens with pesticides and herbicides – killing off their primary food source – the milkweed.

The fact of the matter is, the monarch could use a little help. To protect the monarch, we truly need to protect all of the places they call home throughout the year in all their life stages. You can help by pledging to make your garden a safe space for monarchs this spring.

American Eel (COSEWIC Status: Threatened)

American Eel

They might have a face only a mother could love, but these little creatures are in serious trouble — and we have to act fast if we want to help the American Eel. This species is in decline worldwide, but one of the most dramatic declines has been in Ontario, where the American Eel is at less than one per cent of its historic abundance. This species is listed as Threatened on a national level, but is severely Endangered in Ontario.

Eels from the St. Lawrence River, Ottawa River, and Lake Ontario are particularly important to the global population. All eels found in these areas are female and they grow to be the largest American Eel in existence. These large females carry so many eggs that, until recently, they contributed 25 to 67 per cent of the global population’s reproduction. The loss of so many highly reproductive females is a major threat to the survival of the entire species.

Barren-ground Caribou (COSEWIC Status: Threatened)

Barren-ground Caribou

The Caribou is an iconic Canadian species, but many of the great northern Caribou herds have fallen to all-time lows. In December, COSEWIC assessed two populations for the first time and found each to be at-risk: the rare Torngat Mountain caribou population was assessed as Threatened and the Barren-ground population was assessed as Endangered.

Several caribou populations migrate hundreds of kilometres between their calving and wintering grounds every year. These caribou are very sensitive to human disturbances. Development has affected the caribou’s migratory habitats, as well as the areas used to birth their young. Warming temperatures in the north also put a strain on the caribou’s natural habitat and its ability to thrive.

Burrowing Owl (COSEWIC Status: Endangered)

Burrowing Owl

The Burrowing Owl was once a common sight in the short-grass prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as in British Columbia. Today, the Burrowing Owl is Endangered. The Canadian population of this little bird of prey has declined over 95 per cent since 1987, and now occupies a mere 36 per cent of its original distribution in Canada.

Although the exact reason for this rapid decline is still unknown, several threats are thought to have had a negative impact on the Burrowing Owl. The conversion of native grassland to cropland, the fragmentation and degradation of the owl’s habitat, as well as pesticide use, has taken a toll. Find out what CWF is doing to help the Burrowing Owl.

There are a few #SpeciesAtRisk that could use some extra love this #ValentinesDay. Find out how you can help.

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Share the love

There are many ways to share your love for wildlife this Valentine’s Day.

  • Symbolically adopt one of the wild species on the CWF shop. Every purchase goes towards conservation and education in Canada.
  • If you haven’t already, become a monthly donor.
  • Help raise awareness by sharing this blog post with your friends and family. The more people know about species at risk, the more support we can give these animals.

What’s happening to the American Eel?

Last week, the Canadian Wildlife Federation helped lead an effort to transport 400 juvenile American Eels from the St. Lawrence River and release them in the Ottawa River near Hawkesbury. Continue reading “What’s happening to the American Eel?”