In the Field with Western/Northern: Mule deer tracking along the South Saskatchewan River


Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), cervids indigenous to the western part of North America and famous for the size of their ears, are a species of particular interest to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC). Together with white-tailed deer, moose and elk, mule deer represent a natural host for chronic wasting disease (CWD), the spongiform encephalopathy first observed in captive mule deer in the late 60’s. Since 2006 the CWHC Western/Northern centre has been studying CWD in wild cervids along the South Saskatchewan River valley.

JessWhen the opportunity arose for me, a recent graduate of veterinary medicine from Germany to assist CWHC staff Marnie Zimmer and Crystal Rainbow in their field work I couldn’t say no. Having never seen a mule deer in the wild, I was able to learn the technique of radio telemetry to track these charismatic animals in the gorges and rolling hills of Cabri in the southwest of Saskatchewan.

Halfway through my 4 month externship with Environment Canada and the University of Saskatchewan I learned that Saskatchewan’s landscape can abruptly change from flat prairie to colourful forests to high hills and deep valleys, such as in the area of near Cabri. After a three-hour drive from Saskatoon we stepped out of the truck and into the late summer 33°C sunshine and set ourselves up with water, sun screen, and antennas. To describe how exciting it was to hear the beeping sound of the collar when we detected a female mule deer close by that had not been found for some months would be a difficult task. Crystal and I expected the unfortunate case of finding only the collar of a deer that did not survive while we were crawling down the hills. What a fascinating moment when a healthy animal came jumping out of the bushes and effortlessly up the hill in front of us, showing its radio collar while looking back at us – my first mule deer!

Jess_buckThe day was full of surprises like that. Climbing more hills in the midday sun with Marnie to locate another doe made sure that I will never refer to Saskatchewan as a flat province again. The view not only revealed an adult female, but also her fawn with its fluffy oversized ears stotting in typical mule deer manner like a bouncy ball out of the gorge. A handsome mule deer buck that we were able to track, dozens of majestic hawks and an antelope rounded up our field experience for this successful day before we started our drive back to Saskatoon.

Thank you for this unique field work opportunity, it has been an invaluable experience for me and I am hoping to join their fieldwork again soon – possibly with a lot of snow next time!




Submission and photos by Jessica Magenwirth

Decision from the Quebec Superior Court: No work allowed for oil port project in Cacouna during the beluga’s calving season


Photo courtesy of Meighan Makarch

Photo courtesy of Meighan Makarch

Quebec Superior Court Judge Claudine Roy agreed with concerns expressed by groups promoting the conservation of the St. Lawrence beluga whale regarding the delivery of a permit by the Ministère de l’Environnement du Québec to TransCanada for the development of an oil port near Cacouna (province of Quebec).

According to these groups, this permit which authorizes TransCanada to perform drilling activities during the beluga’s calving season should not have been issued by the Ministère due to the risk of disturbances in a key habitat for this population of endangered whale. Long term monitoring of this population has shown that the area near Cacouna is used extensively by females with newborn calves. Consequently, this zone is considered by experts as a key area for the reproduction of this population. This is why a request for injunction was filed to the Superior Court in order to prohibit drilling in this area during the beluga’s calving seasons which spread out from May to mid-October.

In her decision, Judge Roy stated that the ministère de l’Environnement du Québec did not respect its own legislation regarding the needs to project endangered species. Judge Roy also commented on the issue that none of the staff involved with this evaluation had sufficient expertise with marine mammals. She also highlighted the fact that the permit was given despite the Ministère de l’Environnement du Québec having not obtained scientific data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

This legal battle and the verdict of this case generated a lot of media interest in the province which resulted in an increase of the population’s awareness regarding the issues associated with the survival of this population of marine mammals.

See the following links for more information:

The Quebec Regional Centre of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative has been monitoring causes of mortality in this population of beluga with the collaboration of different partners such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada and the Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins. This year, three carcasses of beluga have been examined so far, including one newborn calf and a female that gave birth shortly before she died.

Submitted by Stéphane Lair, CWHC Quebec

La Cour supérieure du Québec tranche : Pas de travaux d’exploration à Cacouna durant la saison de mise bas des bélugas


Photo courtesy of Meighan Makarch

Photo courtesy of Meighan Makarch

La juge Claudine Roy de la Cour supérieure du Québec a tenu compte des craintes exprimées par les groupes de défense du béluga du Saint-Laurent concernant le certificat d’autorisation remis par le ministère de l’Environnement du Québec à la compagnie TransCanada dans le dossier du port pétrolier de Cacouna (Québec).

D’après ces groupes, le ministère n’aurait pas dû accorder ce certificat permettant à TransCanada de faire ces travaux de forage durant la saison de mise bas du béluga en raison des risques de dérangements dans une zone d’importance pour cette population de baleines menacées. En effet, la zone concernée est connue pour être fréquentée par un grand nombre de femelles avec veaux et est donc considérée par les experts comme une zone d’importance pour la reproduction de cette population. Une demande d’injonction avait donc été déposée en Cour supérieure afin de suspendre les travaux durant la saison de mise bas qui s’échelonne du mois de mai à la mi-octobre.

Dans sa décision, la juge Roy reproche au ministère de l’Environnement du Québec de ne pas avoir respecté sa propre loi lui dictant de protéger les espèces menacées. D’après la juge, “aucun des représentants du ministre ayant travaillé sur le dossier ne connaît les mammifères marins”. De plus, elle souligne que le certificat d’autorisation a été accordé sans que le ministère de l’Environnement du Québec ait obtenu de données scientifiques de Pêches et des Océans Canada.

Cette saga judiciaire et le verdict de cette cause ont fait couler beaucoup d’encre et ont généré un débat plutôt animé au Québec. Cette attention médiatique a permis de sensibiliser la population aux problématiques associées à la protection de cette population de mammifères marins.

Liens médiatiques d’intérêt :

Le Centre régional du Québec du Réseau canadien de la santé de la faune continu à documenter les causes de mortalité touchant cette population de bélugas. Ce programme de suivi est réalisé avec la participation de différents partenaires tels Pêches et Océans Canada, Parcs Canada et le Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins. Cette année trois carcasses de bélugas ont été examinées jusqu’ici, incluant un veau naissant et une femelle ayant mis bas peu de temps avant sa mort.

Submitted by Stéphane Lair, CWHC Quebec

CWHC Western/Northern director departs for Sri Lanka

Trent radiotracking

Trent Bollinger, regional director of the CWHC’s Western/Northern centre, departed on a trip to Sri Lanka last week to participate in research investigating diseases and causes of mortality in fruit bats. Trent will be working with Anjana Chamal, a veterinarian and MSc student involved in a joint program between the CWHC and the Sri Lankan Wildlife Health Centre (SLWHC), a collaboration that will help build wildlife disease surveillance capacity in Sri Lanka.

Trent then plans to carry on to New Zealand and Australia to work with veterinarians at their respective Wildlife Health Centres.

We wish Trent the best of luck on his travels and look forward to his return in 2015!


Notes from the Field: Post-mortem examination of a beluga whale

Stéphane Lair of the CWHC Quebec centre performs a post-mortem examination on a beluga whale found stranded in St. André de Kamouraska. Additional laboratory testing will be required to determine the cause of death of this animal.

WARNING: This video contains graphic content that may be offensive to some viewers

Un examen post-mortem est réalisée sur une carcasse de beluga trouvé échoué à Saint-André de Kamouraska. Des examens complémentaires seront nécessaires afin de déterminer la cause de la mort.

Attention ce vidéo contient des images pouvant choquer.

Submitted by Stéphane Lair, CWHC Quebec

Licensing of diclofenac poses serious concerns for vultures


Members of our staff recently received the following message written to the wildlife health community about concerns over licensing of the veterinary drug diclofenac for use in Europe. This drug, which has been attributed to a 99% population decline in several species of Old World vultures beginning in the mid-1990s, was again licensed for manufacture and use in Spain and Italy in 2013, and is now being exported to several European countries.

Dear Colleagues,Gyps_fulvus_jlacruz

The licensing of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac for veterinary use in several EU states poses serious concerns for vulture health and their important ecosystem services. Diclofenac has been clearly demonstrated to cause catastrophic levels of mortality of vultures that consume any livestock that have been treated with the drug. The regulatory approval in the EU for diclofenac use is extremely concerning given the precipitous declines in vulture populations which have resulted from diclofenac use on the Indian subcontinent, including loss of more than 40 million vultures over only fifteen years.

Vulture population loss has caused major direct and indirect environmental impacts, including increases in feral dog numbers that exploit the vulture food sources (and thereby giving rise to higher incidence of rabies and dog bites) and much increased costs of carcass disposal. Most alarming is the threat of total extinction of several vulture species due to diclofenac’s high toxicity in some species, and the associated loss of biodiversity. Although veterinary regulations are relatively strict in Europe, every instance of failing to meet immediate carcass disposal requirements could result in numerous vulture mortalities. This could be especially pronounced in Spain, which holds 90% of Europe’s vulture population.

We encourage IUCN SSC WHSG and other members of the wildlife health community to make their own national veterinary authorities aware of this problem, which might also emerge in their jurisdiction. Across South Asia, the governments and conservation community have successfully taken steps to ban veterinary diclofenac since 2006, and instead encourage the use of other out of patent drugs that are widely available alternatives (such as meloxicam) that are known to be safe for vultures and other scavengers. The IUCN SSC WHSG has been working with other members of the IUCN SSC, including the Vulture Specialist Group, and EWDA to reverse the EU’s approval on diclofenac use.

Distribution map of Gyps species

Distribution map of Gyps species

IUCN SSC Wildlife Health Specialist Group
Twitter: @IUCNWildHealth
Facebook: IUCN SSC Wildlife Health Specialist Group


For more information, please see:

Map of Gyps species distribution: From SAVE (

Green, R. E., Newton, I., Shultz, S., Cunningham, A. A., Gilbert, M., Pain, D. J. & Prakash, V. (2004). Diclofenac poisoning as a cause of vulture population declines across the Indian subcontinent. J Appl Ecology 41(5): 793-800.

Prakash V, Bishwakarma MC, Chaudhary A, Cuthbert R, Dave R, et al. (2012) The Population Decline of Gyps Vultures in India and Nepal Has Slowed since Veterinary Use of Diclofenac was Banned. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49118.

Submitted by Ted Leighton, CWHC Associate

Rabies and Bat Education


As the weather starts to turn colder animals begin to migrate or find warm places to hibernate. This is true of some species of bats like the Big Brown Bat who will often hibernate in buildings. This in turn increases the risk of human and domestic animal exposure to them. Bats can be infected with rabies and other diseases so it is important to educate ourselves about them and what we can do to decrease contact with them. In recognition of World Rabies Day (September 28, 2014), we would like to draw attention to a few great internet resources:

1. This webpage focuses on educating children about rabies. Children are curious and generally very hands-on, so it is important to educate our kids about what to do if they encounter wildlife such as bats inside the house or while playing outdoors.

2. For adults, here is a link to an excellent resource dealing with what to do if you find a bat in the house:

If you have concerns about the health of the bat or if you find a dead bat, call your nearest CWHC Regional office.

3. Another message we hope to share is that bats are not bad or scary! In fact they are important insectivores and pollinators. A single little brown bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in a single hour, and is one of the world’s longest-lived mammals for its size, with lifespans of almost 40 years. As this species, along with several others has been hit hard by the emerging disease white nose syndrome, it is more important than ever to raise awareness about bats and the important role they play in our environment. Although not specifically about rabies, this educational and entertaining video gives an overview of why bats tend to carry diseases that infect humans, and why we should not villainize them because of it.

Submitted by Marnie Zimmer, CWHC Western/Northern

A parasite of the North American river otter: Potential cause of blindness in burbot?

Adult E. alarioides collected from the intestine of North American river otter (100X magnification)

Adult E. alarioides collected from the intestine of North American river otter (100X magnification)

The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is a fur bearing mammal of economic value. Historically they were distributed throughout Canada and United States but their present range is fragmented due to pollution and urbanization. Reintroduction efforts have greatly expanded the distribution of this mammal in the United States and Canada. In spite of these efforts, the North American river otter is considered vulnerable across much of its range. Therefore, it is important to study the diseases and the disease causing agents that this animal is susceptible to. Nonetheless, there have been relatively few studies on parasitic fauna of river otters.

Baptiste Froidefond, an intern from École Nationale Vétérinaire, Toulouse, France in Alberta-CWHC lab working on molecular diagnosis of E. alarioides.

Baptiste Froidefond, an intern from École Nationale Vétérinaire, Toulouse, France in Alberta-CWHC lab working on molecular diagnosis of E. alarioides.

As part of a 6 week wildlife parasitology internship at the Alberta-CWHC, Baptiste Froidefond, a second year DVM student from École Nationale Vétérinaire, Toulouse, France investigated gastro-intestinal parasites of North American river otters (supervised by Dr. Mani Lejeune). Baptiste found the tiny trematode parasite, Enhydridiplostomum alarioides in some of the otters. This parasite belongs to the subfamily: Diplostomatinae (Parasites of birds). The members of this subfamily generally use birds as definitive hosts and aquatic snails as intermediate hosts. The parasitic stages (cercaria) released from the snails encyst (metacercaria) on the eyes of surface and bottom dwelling fresh water fishes and can cause blindness. The life cycle is completed when the definitive hosts feed on the infected, blinded fish.

The specific life cycle for E. alarioides is unknown; however, it is possible that it is transmitted to river otters through burbot or other food fish. A previous Healthy Wildlife blog post reported that 35% of burbot had cataracts associated with parasitic stages (metacercaria) belonging to genus Diplostomum. However it should be noted that parasite species confirmation based only on morphology of metacercaria is difficult and one has to resort to molecular methods for accurate identification. Moreover, burbot are bottom dwellers, and the likelihood of them being fed on by birds is low. These fish are therefore considered to be ‘ecological sinks’ for the parasites if they require bird hosts. Given that E.alarioides appears to be fairly common in river otters, and that burbot are a preferred food source, further DNA-based studies are needed to determine if E.alarioides has a life cycle that includes the predator-prey association between river otter and burbot.

Acknowledgement: Fur Institute of Canada, Vegreville, Alberta for allowing secondary use of tissues collected on necropsy of North American river otter trap assessment project

Submitted by Manigandan Lejeune, CWHC Alberta

New Provincial Parks Announced in Ontario


Clear creek forestOn September 3, 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced that they are opening five new provincial parks:

  • Carden Alvar, located near Orillia
  • Cedar Creek, near Essex
  • Clear Creek Forest, near Chatham-Kent
  • Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Mnidoo Mnising, located on Manitoulin Island
  • Strawberry Island, near Manitoulin Island

Eastern-loggerhead-shrikeWhile each of these new parks will be significant, the Carden Alvar is of special interest to the CWHC. The Carden Alvar provides a unique and vital habitat for the endangered Eastern Loggerhead Shrike. Over the past several years, the CWHC has been assisting Wildlife Preservation Canada and their associated agencies with their Eastern Loggerhead Shrike captive breeding program.



In addition to the new parks, the ministry will also be expanding existing parks:

  • Misery Bay
  • Stoco Fen
  • Charleston Lake

See the following for more information:

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry News Release

Wildlife Preservation Canada – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Captive Breeding Program

Submitted by David Cristo, CWHC Ontario/Nunavut

Notes from the Field: Dr. Malcolm McAdie talks about Marmots

Dr. Malcolm McAdie has been a key part of the recovery program for the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). This video gives us a quick update on what he saw in the field this year in the population of animals that have been re-established in the wild. Malcolm talks about the marmot population declining this year after several years of population increases; likely as a result of drought and predation.

Watch the video here:

Submitted by Craig Stephen, CWHC National Office