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Giant Beaver

The giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) is an extinct rodent that lived in North America between 1.4 million and 10,000 years ago. It was a distant cousin to modern beavers, but in many ways may have been more similar to modern capybaras. The giant beaver was one of the largest rodents ever to roam the Earth, and one of approximately 30 extinct genera of beavers. Only two beaver species survive today: the North American beaver and the Eurasian beaver. The giant beaver received its scientific name after remains were found in 1837 in Ohio. In Canada, giant beaver fossils have been found on Indian Island, New Brunswick; in Toronto and near Highgate, Ontario; and in Old Crow Basin, Yukon. They live on in the oral history of many Indigenous peoples, including the Innu, Seneca, eastern Cree, Chippewa and Vuntut Gwitchin.

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Endangered Animals in Canada

Many animals in Canada face the risk of extinction. Animals are put at risk for several reasons, including: climate change, the loss of forest and grassland to cities and agriculture, hunting, fishing, and the pollution of lakes and rivers. As of 2021, 554 animal species are at risk in Canada, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. In addition, 18 are extirpated and 18 extinct. The committee’s definition of a wildlife species includes taxonomic categories as well as geographically distinct populations. For example, the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is included in the list of at risk animal species six times, as there are six different populations facing different threats to their survival. (See also Endangered Plants in Canada.)

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Extinct Plants in Canada

There is one plant native to Canada that is extinct. Called Macoun’s shining moss (Neomacounia nitida), this plant grew near Belleville, Ontario. Given the abundance of plant species found in Canada, it’s perhaps surprising that only one is extinct, especially when compared to the number of extinct animals in the country — 18 as of 2021. However, Macoun’s shining moss is likely not the only extinct Canadian plant. It is possible that many more species went extinct before botanists observed and recorded them. Because early settlers were more likely to notice animals and use them for food and economic purposes, their disappearance was better documented. (See also Extinct Animals in Canada.)

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Endangered Plants in Canada

A species is endangered if there are threats to its survival. Plants are put at risk for several reasons, including: climate change and the loss of natural habitat to cities, agriculture and industry. In Canada, these activities threaten entire natural ecosystems, such as older forests and Prairie grasslands. As of 2021, 250 plant species are at risk in Canada, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. In addition, four are extirpated and one is extinct. The committee’s definition of a wildlife species includes taxonomic categories as well as geographically distinct populations. For example, the bent spike-rush (Eleocharis geniculate) is included on the list of at risk plant species twice, as there are two different populations, one in British Columbia and one in Ontario, facing different threats to their survival. (See also Endangered Animals in Canada.)

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Extinct Animals in Canada

As of May 2021, 18 animal species once found in Canada are now extinct, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The committee’s definition of a wildlife species includes taxonomic categories as well as geographically distinct populations. For example, the Atlantic salmon appears on COSEWIC’s list of at-risk species 15 times, as there are 15 populations of Atlantic salmon in Canada facing different threats to their survival. Similarly, when one of these populations goes extinct — as was the case for Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario in 1898 — there are specific, cascading effects for the ecosystem that the population belongs to. Communities may lose fishing opportunities and other animals may lose a source of food. Though the Atlantic salmon is an example of a species with populations still observable in the wild, this list of 18 also includes animals that no longer exist anywhere on the planet, such as the sea mink or great auk. The reasons for the extinction of these animals range from overhunting to predation from invasive species to,­ in the case of the Eelgrass limpet, a plight of slime mould.