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Environment

Do not disturb: Calgary Zoo wildlife centre aims to save endangered species

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  • CALGARY — A narrow, snow-covered gravel road winds its way to a hidden gate that opens to a parcel of land on the southern tip of Calgary.

    But it’s not a typical ranch property. Behind large, wire fences live a Przewalski wild horse native to Mongolia, Vancouver Island marmots, burrowing owls, greater sage grouse and whooping cranes.

    The Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre, which opened in 1984 and is operated by the Calgary Zoo, is dedicated to saving endangered species.

    “Often we are the last resort for many endangered species that have struggled in the wild,” explains Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, the zoo’s director of conservation and science.

    Staff aim to give the animals the best possible care and make them suitable to release back into the wild.

    “These are species that are destined for the wild, or their offspring are, and so we need to make sure that they are kept as wild as possible. These are extremely sensitive species. We don’t want people to randomly climb fences and being noisy and disturbing the animals.”

    The program’s reputation has grown over the years to the point where it is getting requests to take on more species from around the world, Moehrenschlager says.

    The centre is also planning to relocate to a more private location east of Calgary within the next couple of years. The city’s urban spread has started encroaching on the property, he says.

    “It used to be in the middle of nowhere, but we’ve got developments happening so we need to transition that and move it.”

    Some of the animals aren’t bothered by outside stimuli. 

    “Well come on over. How you doing?” says Calgary Zoo general curator Colleen Baird after calling to two Asiatic horses kept separate from the main herd.

    The whooping cranes, however, are a different matter.

    Their loud, single-note bugle calls can be heard clearly inside the burrowing owl sanctuary. “They always wake up the neighbours,” Baird says with a laugh.

    A visit to see the cranes wasn’t possible because anything upsetting to them could reduce the need to breed.

    “They will get cautious and often will shut down and not breed, as the environment and outward cues are telling them that conditions are not ideal or safe to expend all the energy it takes to raise a chick,” Baird says.

    “Any changes the cranes will pick up on right away, as they are defending territories and males wanting to have a safe place to do their mating dance to the females.”

    The centre is the only facility in Canada that helps breed whooping cranes and its program has been a big success, Baird says. Their global population had dropped to 14 in the 1990s but has since grown to more than 400.

    The burrowing owls habitat is also a busy place.

    Zookeeper Joan Gellatly has been on the job for 30 years and is responsible for their care and feeding. “We make sure everybody’s healthy and happy, fed and watered. Just like when you’ve got pets at home, it’s kind of our job.”

    The burrowing owl program is in its third year. Research teams also grab owlets from the wild in the spring and bring them into captivity for 10 months because they often don’t survive.

    At the end of the 10 months, researchers match up predetermined males and females, tag them and release them.

    “Then researchers will follow the birds through the summer time. And, if they pair-bond for the season, they nest and the eggs and the owlets hatch out,” said Gellatly. 

    “We have had success with that.”

    Moehrenschlager describes the centre as doing amazing things to help animals and ecosystems.

    “All we’re trying to do is prevent extinction so we need to make sure that these programs do their part to help the species.”

    — Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

     

    Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press




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    Environment

    There wasn’t an app for that? Environment Canada launches its own weather app

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  • OTTAWA — Environment Canada is going mobile.

    The federal agency launched its first ever weather app for iPhone and Android this week, including a new high-resolution radar option so amateur meteorologists can guess exactly when the next rain storm or blizzard is going to hit their backyard.

    WeatherCAN is free, can be operated in English or French, and includes Indigenous symbols for northern locations.

    Push notifications warning of extreme weather are also an option.

    There are any number of other weather apps on the market, but Environment Canada had never bothered to make one for itself until now, despite getting 40 million hits to its website every month and being the source of weather data used by many other weather apps.

    “We are the experts,” said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in an interview.

    McKenna said she was surprised when she took office that Environment Canada didn’t have its own presence on smart phones.

    “With how much Canadians care about weather, I realized there was an opportunity to have a tool,” she said.

    The app tracks 10,000 Canadian locations, from the biggest cities to the smallest town in the country — Tilt Cove, N.L.

    According to the app, the four people who live there were expecting about 10 cm of snow overnight.

    The radar map available on the app is four times better than others currently available, but — as is often the case with anyone trying to predict the weather — the new app comes with an immediate caveat not to trust everything it says.

    “Weather conditions in your location may differ from information available to (Environment and Climate Change Canada),” it says in the terms and conditions you must accept before gaining entry.

    The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Federal lawyer tells carbon tax hearing greenhouse gases don’t have borders

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  • REGINA — A lawyer for the Attorney General of Canada says the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a matter of national concern.

    Sharlene Telles-Langdon says greenhouse gases cannot be distinguished from province to province once they are emitted into the air.

    She says each province’s emissions contribute to Canada’s overall greenhouse gas levels.

    Ottawa is laying out its arguments in a Regina court about why imposing a federal carbon price on Saskatchewan is constitutional.

    The federal government says it can levy a carbon tax because climate change and greenhouse gas emissions affect everyone in Canada.

    Lawyers for Saskatchewan and other carbon tax opponents say Ottawa is overreaching into provincial jurisdiction.

    The Canadian Press


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