First Greater Sage-Grouse Reproduce in Human Care in Canada

Posted on October 18

Calgary, AB – In an effort to bolster the wild greater sage-grouse population in Canada, the Calgary Zoo is proud to announce the successful breeding and hatching of sage-grouse at its Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre (DWCC). This marks a significant milestone for these highly endangered birds, as it has resulted in increasing the conservation population in human care, which will positively benefit the wild population through future reintroduction efforts.

“Saving greater sage-grouse is important, but it is not easy. I am proud of the progress that has been made in founding a vibrant reintroduction breeding program that can assist wild populations for years to come,” says Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, Director of Conservation & Science, Calgary Zoo. “With experts, federal and provincial government partners, and landowners we will now reassess conditions in the wild to develop release strategies that can be progressively improved over time.”

This year marked the first time on-site breeding and reproduction of greater sage-grouse was successful; currently there are eight hens, six males and 50 juveniles thriving at the DWCC. The success of this conservation breeding program can be attributed to the expertise of the zoo’s Animal Care, Veterinary, Horticulture and Conservation Research teams and its partners who boldly took on the challenge to help save one of Canada’s most endangered birds.

Last fall, the Calgary Zoo was pleased to open the first greater sage-grouse breeding facility in Canada, the Snyder-Wilson Family Greater Sage-Grouse Pavilion. This custom-made facility enabled the conservation breeding program to reach this level of success as it provides the birds with a natural environment which is important for successful reproduction and welfare of the birds. Sage brush, grown in the wild in British Columbia, was collected under the leadership of the zoo’s Horticulture team by volunteers from Pembina Pipeline Corporation and will be used as a winter food source for the flock.

The greater sage-grouse (urophasianus subspecies) is listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). With fewer than 400 left in the wild in Canada, greater sage-grouse are threatened by habitat destruction and human development. There are only five known leks (dancing grounds where mating for this species occurs) of the birds remaining in Canada – two in Saskatchewan and three in Alberta.

The Calgary Zoo’s approach to saving this iconic prairie bird is through its award-winning conservation expertise that aims to build viable populations for imperilled species in the wild. Over the years, the zoo has successfully used breed-and-release strategies to strengthen wild populations of whooping cranes and Vancouver Island marmots. From 2014 to 2016, the sage-grouse conservation program involved collaborative work with partners, planning, field work in the wild, facility development, and the care of sage-grouse chicks sourced from wild eggs which hatched at the DWCC.

Following a workshop this fall, with experts including federal and provincial government agencies, the team will determine the best practises of how, when and where the sage grouse will be released into the wild.

This conservation breeding program is supported by ongoing funding from Alberta Environment and Parks and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

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Trish Exton-Parder
Lead, Media Relations
Calgary Zoo
Phone: 403.232.9381
Mobile: 403.371.9075
[email protected]