Barrick is partnering with the Toronto Zoo to support wetlands conservation and programming, as well as restoration, education and outreach.
The company will provide funding for the zoo’s Wildlife Health Centre, which supports infrastructure for wetlands and biodiversity programming. This includes the Turtle Head Start and Amphibian Rescue facilities, which house internal breeding and release programs. The Toronto Zoo will also use part of the funds to add and restore wetland areas on its property, which is adjacent to Rouge Park. The park, which has extensive wetlands and wildlife habitat, is one of the only Canadian national parks located in an urban setting.
"We have lost more than 75 percent of our wetland habitats in urban Canada due to development or drainage for agriculture," says Julia Phillips, Program Coordinator for the Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Program. "Ontario has more than 74,000,000 acres of wetlands, but at least 70 percent of the wetlands in heavily urbanized southern Ontario have disappeared in the last 200 years."
Wetlands provide critical ecosystem services to humans, filtering the water we drink, protecting us from floods and natural disasters, and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also provide critical habitats for wildlife, second only to tropical rainforests in the number of animals they support.
The Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Program works with community groups and conservation partners on projects to protect local wetland species and habitats. The program is rehabilitating the Toronto Zoo’s wetlands to improve the quality and quantity of habitats available for native species. Berms are being built to increase the amount of water in wetlands, ponds are being dredged, native vegetation is being planted to create a more diverse plant community, small islands are being added to ponds for turtles to bask, and bird houses are being installed at various points for nesting.
Making these improvements without dramatically changing the environment, which could discourage wildlife from returning, is a delicate balance. So far, the wildlife seems to be accepting the improvements: the swans are back from their annual winter trip south, and other wildlife has been spotted in and around the renovated digs.
The Toronto Zoo is also helping amphibian populations with its Turtle Head Start Program and Amphibian Rescue Centre. "We collect turtle eggs from wild populations, hatch the eggs and raise the young turtles at the zoo until they are big enough that most predators will no longer try to eat them," Phillips says. "Then we release them back into the wild."
In addition to the head-start programs, the Toronto Zoo also runs captive-breeding and population-monitoring programs for a number of amphibian species. The captive-breeding programs focus on releasing animals, such as the Wyoming Toad, into their natural habitats when possible, or maintaining "assurance" populations so that, once wild habitats are restored, animals can be re-introduced to the area.
For Phillips, wetland conservation is a labor of love. "To me, wetlands represent amazing places for discovery and wonder," she says. "I feel passionate about community-based conservation and wetland conservation, and I have a great sense of fulfillment from the partnerships we build to protect and celebrate wetland species and their habitats."