The recent meeting of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) added two more species to its at risk list. The addition of the Atlantic Walrus and Eastern Migratory Caribou brings the number of Canadian wildlife species at risk of extinction to 62.

Some areas of northern Canada are warming more rapidly than any other region in the world, and the impact on habitats is affecting numerous Arctic animals.

The Atlantic Walrus’s two surviving populations in Canada are under threat from habitat loss as the Arctic warms. Both the High Arctic and Central and Low Arctic populations are shrinking.  The Committee has recommended a status of Special Concern for both populations due to these falling numbers and increased accessibility of the populations by tourists and other industries.

“The walrus is a most unusual and distinctive mammal of the northern seas,” said COSEWIC member Hal Whitehead. “Walruses have been very important to the Inuit, both as food and in their culture, and they remain so today. Walruses are particularly sensitive to disturbance, and certainly deserve special attention.”

The Committee recommended Endangered status for the Eastern Migratory Caribou. The George River herd has collapsed from over 800,000 animals to a few thousand today. Another large herd is also declining rapidly. Climate change and its impacts on habitat and food appear to be to blame.

“Shrubs increasingly cover landscapes that were once dominated by lichen, caribou’s major winter food source, and overharvest continues,” said Graham Forbes, co-chair of COSEWIC’s Terrestrial Mammals Subcommittee. “We are worried that these factors may make it very hard for herds to recover.”

Canada’s biodiversity is at risk from coast to coast to coast, and timely action on many fronts is required, from dealing with habitat disturbance and overharvesting to concerted efforts to combat the effects of climate change, said Eric Taylor, Chair of COSEWIC.

Further details on all wildlife species assessed at this meeting can be found on the COSEWIC website at: http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=EC89538C-1#results. The Committee will meet again to assess more wildlife species in November this year.