Essex County Nature Meeting

By |2016-04-11T16:20:49-04:00June 8th, 2016||

Massasauga Recovery at Ojibway  – Prairie Jonathan Choquette will be giving a talk about his work to recover the local population of Massasauga Rattlesnakes. The Ojibway Prairie population of Massasaugas (Sistrurus catenatus) is one of only two populations of this species remaining in Canada’s Carolinian zone. It is geographically isolated from its Canadian counterparts by over 300 km, is genetically unique, and is the only representative of a tallgrass prairie population of this species in Canada. Historically, Massasaugas were distributed across much of Essex County, however, by about the 1960s they had become eliminated from all but the Ojibway/LaSalle region. Since then, things have only been getting worse for our little rattlers; the range of the Ojibway population has declined by an estimated 95% over the past 40 years! We are now at the point were less than a dozen adults remain. Although hundreds of
hectares of suitable habitat have been protected within the Ojibway Prairie Complex and Greater Park Ecosystem, much of this is unoccupied by Massasaugas, and natural recolonization is hindered by roads, development and small population size. In order to prevent complete extirpation of the Ojibway population, and the ensuing collapse in Massasauga distribution and genetic variation in Canada, intensive recovery work is of great necessity. Since 2013, I have worked with Wildlife Preservation Canada to implement strategic recovery and monitoring actions recommended in the Recovery Strategy for the Massasauga in Canada. These actions include long-term monitoring, threat reduction, habitat protection and enhancement, public outreach, and population augmentation. Results from some of our recovery work to date will be presented. For example, last year, our field team observed three different Massasaugas using the habitat enhancement structures we created! We also started studying the hibernation habitat below-ground to help us choose the best sites for future releases. But there is still lots of work to do in order to secure the recovery of this ecologically and genetically unique component of Canadian herpetofauna.