A new captive breeding program at the Calgary Zoo is showing early signs of success for the critically-endangered greater sage-grouse. Calling it a “conservation first in Canada,” the zoo announced this week that 11 eggs collected from the wild have successfully hatched at the facility.
Official estimates peg the number of greater sage-grouse left in Canada – split between Alberta and Saskatchewan – at no more than 138 birds. The iconic prairie species is teetering on the brink of extinction due largely to habitat destruction.
“We are extremely pleased to have developed a process with the Alberta Government of safely finding, moving, and hatching sage grouse eggs that have been collected in the wild,” Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Head of Conservation & Research at the Calgary Zoo said in a statement. “We are demonstrating immediate action to respond to the species’ imminent risk of extinction in Canada. This is the first step towards founding a captive population that can serve to recover the species in the future.”
Thirteen eggs were collected from two nests in southeastern Alberta between May 9-15. Two chicks did not survive following their hatching.
The decision to launch a captive breeding program was among the recommendations from experts who met in January to find ways to prevent the species’ extinction from Canada.
An unprecedented federal emergency protection order came into force in February under the Species at Risk Act. It is designed to put an end to oil and gas development as well as cattle grazing on sage grouse habitat. But environmentalist have called those measures too little, too late. Still, zoo officials remain optimistic.
The sage grouse is known for its elaborate mating dance. Watch it here:
Photo Calgary Zoo/Facebook Video Gail Patricelli/YouTube