Canada is famous for its abundant wildlife, and our expansive and varied geography is home to several species which are found nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, many of our uniquely Canadian species are threatened with extinction. By getting to know them a little better we can help preserve this unique part of our Canadian identity.
Vancouver Island Marmot
The Vancouver Island Marmot is the largest member of the marmot family, related to squirrels, about the size of a housecat, and have rich chocolate brown fur broken by distinctive white dollops on their muzzle and chest.
Sometimes considered “Canada’s panda” and the face of Canadian wildlife conservation, at one point there were fewer than 30 of these marmots left in the wild. Thanks to intense conservation efforts and a captive breeding program initiated by the Toronto Zoo in 1997, there are now around 200 of these uniquely Canadian marmots scurrying around the alpine meadows of central Vancouver Island.
The Algonquin wolf is a subspecies of Eastern Wolf whose population is centred around Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Smaller than a Grey wolf and with reddish fur, this little wolf may stem from ancient hybridization with coyotes.
Unfortunately, with fewer than 500 individuals remaining, this uniquely Canadian predator is threatened with extinction. Despite being protected, the Ontario government allows the hunting and trapping of Algonquin wolves outside of protected parks. The possibility that these wolves are hybrids and not a distinct species has impacted conservation efforts.
Wood Bison, a subspecies of American bison, are the largest land animals in North America. These majestic beasts once ranged into Alaska, but after hunting and the expansion of cattle ranching caused them to be being driven to the brink of extinction in the late 1800s, they are now restricted to a few populations in Canada.
While still vulnerable to extinction, wood bison numbers have grown from only around 200 animals, to over 10,000 wood bison in the wild, about 4000 of which are in herds free of bovine tuberculosis. They trace their ancestry back to a remnant population at Wood Buffalo National Park, which was set aside to preserve them. Several disease-free captive populations are also managed to ensure the continued survival of this species.
The Kermode is the provincial mammal of British Columbia. A subspecies of American Black Bear, some kermode creamy white fur caused by a recessive genetic trait (they are not albinos), and these are known as Spirit Bears. During the day white kermode are better at catching fish than their darker counterparts since fish find it harder to spot the bears from underwater.
Kermode are found roaming the coastal rainforests on a number of islands off the coast of British Columbia. There are fewer than 500 spirit bears, with Princess Royal and Gribbell islands having the highest concentration.
The Harris’s Sparrow is Canada’s only endemic breeding bird, meaning they breed nowhere else. Like many Canadians they do head south for winter, where they have no problem taking advantage of backyard bird feeders. Sporting a pink bill set in a distinctive black bib, this is North America’s largest sparrow.
For breeding, Harris’s sparrows are dependent on a tract of tundra stretching from the Northwest Territories southeast into a tiny portion of northwestern Ontario. Their population is declining, and so it is important to preserve their breeding grounds.
The Peary Caribou is the smallest and northernmost subspecies of Woodland caribou. It was aptly named after the first man to reach the north pole. Peary caribou are one of only two that migrate across the frozen Arctic seas from island to island (the other being the equally Canadian Dolphin-Union caribou), and have been known to wander as far as Greenland. Paler than their southern counterparts, Peary caribou are nearly entirely white in winter, darken in summer, and have light grey velvet on their antlers.
Due to the extreme location they call home, Peary Carbou are particularly susceptible to extreme weather and climate change. They are currently considered endangered.
Lacs des Loups Marins Harbour Seal
Canada’s only freshwater seal is one of only a handful of freshwater seals in the world. While most seals prefer galumphing along the coast and gliding through the ocean, the ancestors of these seals became trapped inland 3,000-8,000 years ago when the Laurentian ice sheet retreated. They now call a handful of inland lakes in Quebec’s Ungava Peninsula home.
Darker than their coastal counterparts, Inuit consider the pelts of freshwater seals softer and glossier than that of saltwater cousins. Due to hunting, entanglements in fishing gear, and a restricted range, there may be as few as 100 of these seals left.