Deputy General Manager & Director of Animal Care, Greater Vancouver Zoo
Through local and national partnerships and recovery programs, the Greater Vancouver Zoo is helping endangered species re-populate in the wild.
The Greater Vancouver Zoo is well-known for housing an array of rescued, donated, and orphaned animals. What may be lesser known are the Zoo’s contributions to wildlife conservation. “Part of our mission is to educate people on the challenges these animals face in the wild, the conservation work we’re doing in conjunction with our partners helps to ensure their future survival,” says Menita Prasad, Deputy General Manager & Director of Animal Care at the Greater Vancouver Zoo.
For many endangered species future survival depends on how well their populations recover in the wild. The Greater Vancouver Zoo has three main programs dedicated to species recovery.
One is the captive breeding program, which enables researchers and scientists to monitor animal behaviour and habits around the clock. “The information we get from this has really helped with our success in breeding larger numbers of animals to augment wild populations,” says Prasad.
Another is the head-starting program, in which animals are reared in a safe, predator-free environment during their most vulnerable stage of life until they are deemed mature enough to be released. “By literally giving them a ‘head start’ this way, we’re giving them a much better chance of surviving in the wild,” says Prasad.
Finally, the habit restoration and maintenance program aims to address habitat loss from urban development and invasive species by planting native plants that are helpful to the endangered species the Zoo is working with.
Believed to have disappeared from Canada, this butterfly is making a comeback
One beneficiary of Zoo’s captive breeding and head-starting programs is the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly. This diminutive butterfly species, noted for its black and orange wings dotted with bands of white cells, was believed to be extirpated in Canada until recently, when a few were spotted around a BC coastal island. Today, they can be found on Denman Island, Hornby Island and near Campbell River, BC.
The Greater Vancouver Zoo — along with Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC) and other local and national partners— has played a major role in helping the Taylor Checkerspot populations recover in the wild and is the only organization involved in the captive breeding and rearing of the species.
“The program has been a great success,” says Prasad. “We released 800 larvae back into the wild in 2020, nearly 1,500 in 2021 and then in 2022 we had a record-breaking year with about 5,000 larvae released into the wild. These caterpillars metamorphized into fully flighted butterflies, marking the first time in 20 years that these butterflies have flown in these areas,” says Prasad. About 1,300 more larvae will be released at the end of March.
Other species being helped by the Zoo’s recovery programs include the Oregon spotted frog, Canada’s most endangered amphibian, and the western painted turtle, the only remaining freshwater turtle in BC.
Get involved in preserving wild spaces and wild faces
As an organization that seeks to connect people to wild spaces, the Greater Vancouver Zoo invites the community to learn more about its initiatives to help endangered wildlife and get involved in conservation activities themselves.
Find out more about the Taylor Checkerspot Butterfly and other wildlife conservation initiatives at the GVZ.