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Q&A with Lea Randall, Researcher at the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research

Q&A with Lea Randall, Researcher at the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research

As a population ecologist at the Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research, Lea Randall works hard to research and preserve wildlife populations. Back in 2012, her and her colleagues won an Emerald Award for their conservation work through the Calgary Zoo’s Husky Energy Endangered Species (HEES) program. We sat down for a chat with Lea to discuss the program, conservation at the Calgary Zoo in general, and her own work.


What is the HEES program exactly? What is its mission?

The HEES program ran from 2003-2015 and its goal was to save species that were at risk of extinction. The program had four key strategies:

1. Advance the science of species reintroductions to benefit species and ecosystems.

2. Advise the provincial government and international agencies in the development and implementation of policies that maximize the effectiveness of species reintroduction.

3. Train the next generation of conservation biologists.

4. Connect, engage and inspire citizens in species conservation.

The program has since ended but the Calgary Zoo continues with the important conservation work. Collaborating with academic, government and industrial partners, they address key conservation needs in two focal areas: Species Reintroduction and Community Conservation. The zoo’s species reintroduction work has since grown to include additional species, like the swift fox for example. The zoo’s community conservation projects include hippos and sitatunga in Ghana, mountain bongo in Kenya and lemurs in Madagascar.


What was your role in the HEES program?

I am a population ecologist with a focus on northern leopard frog recovery in Western Canada. Since 2003, the zoo has been conducting research on the population dynamics of leopard frogs to help recover them. As an active member of the B.C. Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team, we have been involved in efforts to help prevent local extinction and aid in the recovery. We have recently started a captive breeding program for this species for reintroduction into the wild.


What did the HEES program win the Emerald Award for in 2012?

We are proud to have won an Emerald Award in 2012 for environmental leadership, scientific progress as well as youth engagement in saving species. The HEES program played a pivotal role in recovering some of Western Canada’s most endangered species and ecosystems.


What are some of the HEES program’s successes?

Some of our successes include:

  • Launching a bold new program for burrowing owls. Known as “head-starting,” this conservation technique involves caring for young burrowing owls in captivity over winter to increase their survival. With this project, the zoo can hopefully give Canada's burrowing owl population a little boost. In 2017, fifteen owls were successfully released during the summer and have nested in the wild.

  • Launched Canada’s only reintroduction breeding program for greater sage-grouse, one of Canada’s most endangered birds.

  • Launched the zoo’s first conservation breeding program for the northern leopard frog. With successful breeding results, this assurance population will help preserve the last wild remaining native population in BC.


Why did the HEES program end?

The HEES program was a limited term agreement between the Centre for Conservation Research and Husky Energy and the agreement ended in 2015. Husky has continued to fund some conservation work at the zoo in a more limited capacity.


What's next for conservation at the Calgary Zoo?

The Calgary Zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research aims to be Canada’s leader in wildlife conservation. Since the end of the HEES program in 2015, we have continued to work on the initiatives listed above and have expanded our program to include new species and collaborations in Canada and abroad.

(Cover image provided by the Calgary Zoo)

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