Canada is known for its varied landscape, ranging from mountains and rolling plains, to rivers, lakes, and Arctic tundras. It is therefore unsurprising that a great variety of animals make this region its home. But human activities such as land conversion and a rapidly changing climate are putting many of these animals at risk. According to a 2022 report, more than 2,000 animal species in Canada face a high risk of being wiped out in the wild. Both the Canada Wildlife Act, which allows for the creation, management, and protection of wildlife areas, and the Endangered Species Act, which aims to prevent Canadian indigenous species from becoming extinct and to provide for the recovery of endangered or threatened species, are actively working to protect animal species in the Great White North. These are just some of the most endangered species in Canada.
Endangered Species in Canada
1. Peary Caribou
An animal that is found only in Canada, specifically in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Peary Caribous looks akin to a reindeer where both females and males can grow antlers. This endangered species in Canada is being threatened by global warming temperatures as many of its predators, including wolves, cougars and coyotes, are able to travel and live further north into its range. Climate change is also impacting its population; the changes in timing of when Arctic ice melts and freezes is affecting their migration patterns and making it more difficult to forage for food (while increasing food competition with other animals). At the same time, consecutive harsh winters are also driving entire herds to starve. Other threats to the species include human settlement and industrialisation, where urban development is in the way of animal foraging. Latest estimates place there are about 13,200 mature individuals left in the wild.
2. Burrowing Owl
One of the smallest owl species – measuring just about 7.5-10 inches tall, the Burrowing owl can mostly be found in the prairie grasslands of Canada. As the species relies on dry, open areas with low vegetation where its prey such as squirrels, prairie dogs, and other small mammals congregate, habitat loss and fragmentation from land development have caused its population to decline over the past 30 years. Much of its historic range has been converted for crop production, where farmers often use pesticides to protect their crops. The burrowing owl has been known to indirectly invest it when they feed on animals, contributing to its mortality rates. Today, there’s fewer than 1,000 pairs remaining in the country.
3. Leatherback Sea Turtle
Named for its characteristic leathery shell, the Leatherback Sea turtle is a migratory marine animal that makes its way throughout the North Atlantic Ocean. About 1,000 turtles travel to Atlantic Canadian sea waters in the summer every year to feed on jellyfish. However globally, this species is estimated to have declined by more than 70% as result of fisheries bycatch, coastal and offshore development, marine pollution, poaching of their eggs, changes to its nesting beaches, as well as climate change. However one of the biggest culprits of its dramatic population decline is entanglement with fixed and discarded fishing gear, where turtles are either choked or prevented from swimming, causing them either to drown or starve to death. While it is considered an endangered species in Canada, its conservation requires international co-operation due to its migratory nature.
4. Vancouver Island Marmot
As the name suggest, this animal is endemic to Vancouver Island and are found mostly in on rocky slopes with loose soils and plenty of sedimentation from rainwater., as well as sub-alpine meadows. The Vancouver Island marmot is a type of ground squirrel that has been losing much of its habitat due to human activities and development. Listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and Endangered within Canada, the species has seen population numbers plummet down to as low as 30 individuals in 2007. However, thanks to conservation efforts, that number has climbed back up to 250-300 in 2015. But genetic variation within the species is still decreasing – leading to interbreeding, which makes it more vulnerable to disease or significant environmental variation – as well as large numbers of prey such as wolves, cougars, and the golden eagle, making it difficult for the species to fully recover.
This small, bear-like animal is capable of travelling long distances, but its historical range has shrunk rapidly since European settlement in Canada, where land conservation and urban development have severely reduced its natural habitat. The eastern population of wolverines has also been threatened by hunting practices; the animal is poached for its frost-resistant fur – ideal for lining parkas – while humans also hunt down wolverines’ main food source, the caribou. The wolverine occurs mostly in the alpine and arctic tundras from British Columbia to Ontario, but no observation has been verified in these provinces since an individual was last trapped in the late 1970s. The most recent data from 2013 estimates its population to be between 458 to 645 individuals.
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6. Beluga Whale
The Beluga whale is most distinguishable by its prominent bulbous forehead, which is called a “melon,” and its unique white colour. They live primarily in areas with Arctic sea ice, where about two-thirds of the world’s population (of approximately 136,000 whales) summer in Canadian waters. The marine mammal is culturally important to Inuit and Inuvialuit communities across the Canadian Arctic; its skin and outer blubber layers are an important food source. Considered an indicator species, the beluga whale is highly sensitive to environmental changes. Whales rely on sea ice for protection from purgatory killer whales; the animal has become more vulnerable as global warming is causing ice cover to reduce and change rapidly. Arctic oil and gas exploration, commercial fishing and shipping operations, and marine pollution are all threatening the survival of the species, particularly as noise pollution impacts the whale’s ability to communicate, detect predators, find food, and care for their young.
7. Atlantic Salmon
Also known as the King of Fish, the Atlantic salmon lives in both fresh and saltwater. Aside from being a popular food source, the salmon is also important to forty First Nations and many Indigenous communities and is used for social and ceremonial purposes. Development such as dams and culverts block or impede the species’ migratory movements, from spawning to rearing, while habitat degradation and foreign fisheries further contribute to its population decline. This is clearly evident as populations dropped to as low as 0.4 million in 1995 compared to 0.8-1.7 million between 1971-1985. As a result, the species has been the subject of conservation efforts in several countries, which appear to have been somewhat successful since the 2000s. Though it is listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN, it remains to be considered an endangered species in Canada.
8. Rusty-patched Bumblebee
Unfortunately, the rusty-patched bumblebee has not been seen in Canada since 2009, which is why the species is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and endangered in Canada. It is named so for its rust-coloured patch found on the abdomens of workers and male bees. This subspecies of the bumblebee tends to forage from food plants, including milkweed, sunflowers, clovers and fruit blossoms. Unlike most other species being threatened by habitat loss, scientists have not been able to discover the cause behind rusty-patched bumblebee’s dramatic population decline, though pesticide use and increased competition with other species such as the European honeybee, may have played a role.
9. Sea Otter
This adorable marine mammal was pushed to the brink of extinction due to the fur trade that began in the 1700s. By 1929, they were essentially gone from British Columbia. But thanks to considerable conservation efforts in Canada, as well as stringent protection measures, the sea otter population soared up to more than 6,500 individuals today. They can now be found along the west coast of Vancouver Island and part of the central coast of British Columbia. Globally however, sea otters are still considered endangered by the IUCN. Within Canada, new threats could impede its success story; bycatch, entanglement in active and abandoned fishing gear, marine pollution and oil spills all pose a threat to the species. The latter of which is detrimental to its survival as sea otters become highly susceptible to hypothermia if their fur comes into contact with oil.
Also known as the unicorns of the sea for their unique long spiralled horn protruding from its forehead, the Narwhal is most commonly found in Canadian waters – two of three of its recognised populations occur in Canada while the third occurs in East Greenland. Much like most marine mammals in the region, the species is at risk due to marine pollution, commercial fishing and climate change. But Narwhal’s preference for deep waters makes them less vulnerable to these factors than other animals The greatest threat to the species is in fact hunting, where their skin and ivory continues to be valuable on the market, and have social and cultural significance for some communities. Despite rare sightings of the animal, scientists estimate there are about 170,000 individuals in the wild.
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