Calgary ecologists work to save nearly extinct species in Washington state

The Calgary Zoo is helping bring an endangered species of weasel back from the brink of extinction through a conservation partnership with ecologists in the United States.

Fishers — which are about the size of a house cat — are a member of the weasel family that was wiped out in Washington state’s North Cascade mountain range in the 1900s.

The state’s fisher population was decimated due to overhunting and habitat loss, but six of the cat-sized critters from Alberta are now roaming the Washington wilderness thanks to ecologists from the Calgary Zoo.

Five female and one male fishers were trapped in Alberta and cared for by staff at the Calgary Zoo before being released in Washington on Tuesday.

The fishers have been tagged with radio transmitters so ecologists can monitor their condition as they get to know their new habitat.

Six fishers (an endangered species in the weasel family) from Alberta have been released in Washington state as part of a conservation project to reintroduce the critters to the habitat after being hunted nearly to extinction.

“As one of Canada’s leading conservation organizations, we are delighted to lend our expertise in the field of reintroduction science to this international collaboration focusing on this endangered species,” said Dr. Clément Lanthier, the zoo’s president and CEO.

“Fishers know no borders and it is only we when work together without divisions that we can truly make a difference for species at risk around the world.”

Fishers are related to wolverines and otters. They prey on smaller mammals like mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares. They are also one of the few natural predators of porcupines.

The reintroduction of the Albertan fishers is part of a years-long effort to release 80 fishers back into the wild. Since 2017, 75 of the endangered animals are roaming the Olympic Peninsula and the southern Cascades and ecologists say they have started to reproduce.

“We are excited to work with so many committed people to reintroduce fishers into another area where they have lived historically,” said Hannah Anderson, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Fisher enthusiasts ranging across nations have come together to work toward robust wildlife populations with the reintroduction of these animals in Washington.”

The fishers’ release was marked by a First Nations blessing from members of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Lummi Indian Nation, and Nooksack Indian Tribe.

To learn more about the Calgary Zoo’s international conservation programs and partnerships visit www.calgaryzoo.com.

RRumbolt@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @RCRumbolt

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