CWHC: Canada’s Wildlife Watchdogs

Climate change and food insecurity are two of the most important problems facing Canada’s North, says CWHC executive director Dr. Craig Stephen.

The organization doesn’t deliver the same sort of ongoing scanning and surveillance services in the North that it does in the provinces. But “it’s certainly a gap that we want to fill, and that needs to be filled, because there are going to be interesting and important things happening in wildlife health as climate change progresses,” says Stephen.

In other parts of the CWHC’s Western/Northern region, ongoing scanning and surveillance has been hugely important — leading to the identification of emerging disease-causing agents. For example, a new blood parasite was found in elk in Saskatchewan through the organization’s surveillance program.

Surveillance of chronic wasting disease has also led to more extensive research, says Stephen, citing the work of Dr. Trent Bollinger, director of the CWHC’s Western/Northern region.

CWHC Western/Northern staff measure and prepare captured deer for a radio collar as part of chronic wasting disease project.


“Trent can use the relationships, the materials and the infrastructure developed for [surveillance] in order to help support and be successful in having some fairly significant research grants,” says Stephen. He adds that by studying the ecology and epidemiology of this disease, Bollinger and his research team can get a better idea of how the disease is spread and how to control it.

The CWHC has also provided an ongoing historical record that can reveal problems. For example, a recent review of the causes of death among birds of prey in Saskatchewan turned up poisoning as a frequent occurrence. It often happens when raptors scavenge bird or animal carcasses after they’ve either been shot or poisoned.

In finding trends such as these, the CWHC can also offer advice to governments.

For example, the CWHC did a risk assessment for the Government of Yukon, addressing the question of how to manage the interface of wild sheep and farm sheep in the northern territory. When the two mix, wild sheep can often catch severe and fatal pneumonias from pathogens that usually don’t cause much trouble for farm sheep.

CWHC Western/Northern Region: past and current projects

  • Investigation of fish die-offs in Saskatchewan
  • Assessment of management strategies in the control of avian botulism outbreaks
  • Investigation of lamb mortality in bighorn sheep in B.C.
  • Participating in national surveillance programs for white-nose syndrome and avian influenza virus
  • Participating in several provincial programs including rabies and wild boar disease surveillance

Article produced by Kathy Fitzpatrick

Kathy Fitzpatrick is a freelance journalist in Saskatoon. Born in Manitoba, she has spent close to four decades working in media — including radio, television, print and digital.

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