Canadian Fishers get Passports

Posted on October 25

And... they're off!

18 Alberta fishers were relocated from northern Alberta to the Northern Cascades in Washington State this month.

The fishers were humanely captured in northern Alberta, where there is a thriving population, as part of an ongoing partnership between: the Calgary Zoo, Alberta Trappers Association, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service and Conservation Northwest to restore these elusive carnivores to Washington’s Cascade Mountains and the Olympic Peninsula.

Each fisher spends 1-2.5 weeks at the Calgary Zoo under the expert care of our zookeepers who provide a varied diet and monitor daily health (food intake, activity and fecal production and collect samples for parasite loads and stress levels). Each fisher is handled once during their stay by our veterinary team for an anesthetic and a full workup including: exam, blood and hair samples, aging, vaccinations, de-worming and a surgical procedure to implant a radio transmitter. This transmitter is key to tracking their movements after release and gauging the success of the population recovery over time. The Calgary Zoo is also conducting behavior research on the fishers in the wild and while at the zoo. 

"As one of Canada's leading conservation charities, the Calgary Zoo is thrilled to bring our internationally recognized expertise in reintroduction science to such an important conservation initiative." said Dr. Clement Lanthier, president & CEO of the Calgary Zoo. "Reintroductions are one of the best tools we have in the fight against species loss and seeing these strong and healthy Alberta carnivores released into pristine forest habitat, is very rewarding."

What are fishers?

Fishers are a house cat-sized member of the weasel family. Fishers are related to wolverines and otters and are native to the forests of northern Alberta. Despite their name, they don’t actually eat fish. Fishers prey on various smaller mammals – mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares – and are one of the few predators of porcupines.

Why are they in trouble in Washington State?

They were eliminated from Washington by the mid-1900s as a result of both over-trapping and habitat loss, and are listed as ‘endangered’ by the state of Washington.

What is the Calgary Zoo doing to help save fishers and restore their populations?

Species translocations are an important tool in our conservation strategy. This year, the Calgary Zoo is working with our partners to investigate how physical and behavioural characteristics of individual fishers impact their success after release. To do this, several remote cameras have been set up to record fisher behavior. By analyzing this footage, our Conservation Research team hopes to assess whether a fisher's exploratory behaviour is consistent in the wild and in captivity. 

The ultimate goal of this behaviour analysis is to determine whether certain traits are correlated with increased survival and reproduction after release. And if behaviour is consistent in the wild and captivity, researchers could then assess behavioural traits in the wild to determine whether an animal is a good release candidate, leading to an increase in success rate.

Since 2018, more than 48 fishers have been released in the North and South Cascades and on the Olympic Peninsula. Monitoring efforts show released animals have demonstrated signs of establishing themselves throughout the Olympic Peninsula and the Southern Cascades, and that they have begun to reproduce.