13 December 2011

The Endangering of the Shrew

We were recently sent a photograph of this Pacific Water Shrew which, along with a mole, was found dead on the Pitt Polder Ecological Reserve.

There are Pacific Water Shrews in Burns Bog and this tiny rodent is endangered. Although it is the largest of the North American shrews, it is also a very rare one, and has suffered as a result of Habitat loss. Think about this - over the past thirty years, the human population in the Metro Vancouver area has more than doubled. As a result, natural areas have shrunk by twenty-four percent. This is catastrophic for many wildlife communities, and there's no end in sight.
In 1993, the Pacific Water Shrew was given 'red-listed' status, signifying an endangered species and one with a dependence on a shrinking habitat.

The Pacific Water Shrew has evolved to live by streams and in wetlands. They feed on insects and aquatic invertebrates, which they bring back to land to eat. They dive, and they swim well, air bubbles trapped in their fur helping to keep them warm. For short spurts, they can run on the surface tension of the water.

But as well as dangers created by human activities, there are natural threats. Mammals need more energy intake than cold-blooded creatures, simply because it takes fuel to keep their bodies warm. Warm bodies mean some can stay active all winter and live in a wider range of temperatures. At higher elevations, some mammals do hibernate, but Pacific Water Shrews do not, and this can be fatal. Sometimes, they simply freeze to death. It is not uncommon, and particularly in a bog, to find a body or two out in the open after a particularly cold snap.

These losses are just part of nature, habitat destruction isn't. We humans need to think creatively and find ways to make economic and environmental health parallel objectives.

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