Reintroduction of the Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) on the Canadian Prairies.
Why swift fox?
Species diversity is a current concern of wildlife management organizations across North America.
One method being used to conserve diversity is an attempt to reestablish wildlife into areas where they were former occupants. The swift fox is one of the species that a program has been developed for. It was classified as extirpated from the Canadian prairies in 1978 (Committee
on the Status of endangered wildlife in Canada, 1978),
and was last officially sighted in 1938. The major extinction factors were most likely accidental poisoning (aimed at wolves and coyotes), trapping pressures, habitat changes, and predation.
The map on the right shows former regions occupied by swift fox are in grey, and the current regions are in black.
What has been done to re-establish this population?
In 1972, a breeding program was established by the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI), where breeding stock of swift fox was brought in from well established populations in the United States. They were brought from regions that were ecologically similar to the mixed grass prairies that they once inhabited. The first release was in 1983, and since then over 1000 swift foxes have been released on the Canadian prairies. In 1998 the status of the swift fox was changed from extirpated to endangered (Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada, 1998).
What is our involvement?
Currently we are developing procedures to obtain hair samples from the wild swift fox populations, through a non-invasive hair method that will reduce the stress placed on the population in comparison to live trapping. The hair samples will be used for DNA extraction, and from
this we will establish profiles for each individual. Our ultimate goal it to have the populations profiled in relation to their geographic location.
This information will give us an idea of their dispersal rates (location of parents in relation to mature progeny), breeding success, and their overall genetic variability. The higher the genetic variability in the population the less likely the population will suffer from inbreeding depression and the higher the probability of survival for the population.