Toronto Zoo Continues Conservation Success With Births Of Endangered Massasauga Rattlesnakes

TORONTO, ON: Your Toronto Zoo is proud to announce the latest success story from one of the Zoo’s many conservation breeding programs; the birth of four massasauga rattlesnakes on Friday, May 29, 2020. These are the first births from the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Breeding Program at Toronto Zoo since 2017. Historically, the eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, now considered an Endangered species in the Carolinian population of southern Ontario, are a challenging species to reproduce. The Zoo carefully adjusted day lengths to simulate wild conditions in an effort to condition the snakes and provide an optimal environment for successful breeding.

The Toronto Zoo snakes are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan (SSP) that began in 2006, a collaborative program aimed at ensuring the survival of the species across its range.  Eastern Massasauga populations are at risk due to habitat loss and fragmentation, road mortality, persecution (as a venomous snake), and illegal collection for the pet trade. The four eastern massasauga rattlesnakes will be joining the current managed population of massasauga’s at the Zoo and contribute their valuable genetic lineage to enhance the health of other assurance populations.

“We are extremely proud of the role your Toronto Zoo continues to play in the recovery of threatened species. As a founding member of the SSP and a pioneer in massasauga conservation in Ontario, we are thrilled with this most recent breeding success,” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo.

Massasauga are a valuable part of our natural heritage as the only surviving venomous species in our Province. The two small populations in Southern Ontario are genetically distinct from the larger population around Georgian Bay and are referred to as the Carolinian sub population. Both of these populations are being monitored and intensely studied as they are at immediate risk of extirpation in the very near future without intervention. The Ontario Government Response Statement for the recovery of the species in the Carolinian population at Wainfleet Bog and Windsor-Lasalle calls for various actions aimed at securing and improving habitat, mitigating threats and possibly augmenting populations to ensure their long term survival.

The AZA Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake SSP is a zoo based program that is in a unique position to assist with this effort. Along with all of our partners, these babies will eventually contribute to the recovery of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake across its range. The Toronto Zoo has worked to save and protect eastern massasauga rattlesnakes and Ontario snakes since 1989 and provides workshops for Zoo members and those living in areas where rattlesnakes are found. The Zoo also contributes to the recovery of this species and a team of recovery experts supports field research, education and outreach programs and resources, scientific research, monitoring, development of shelter areas and ecosystem restoration.

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