A swift seabird swoops and flits over coastal waters; a flash of yellow illuminates a muted swamp ground-just a hint of the dazzling diversity of creatures that flutter above us. But, due to human activities like development, deforestation and pollution, the homes of our wildlife are withering away at an alarming pace. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), there are more than 500 plant and animal species currently at risk in Canada. If action is not taken to reverse this devastating trend, we may see the end of much of our country's distinct array of wildlife.
In October, to raise awareness about endangered species, Canada Post will issue the third set in a three-year stamp series showcasing Canadian creatures at risk of extinction. In 2006, homage was paid to creatures of the land-the blotched tiger salamander, blue racer, Newfoundland marten and swift fox. Last year's stamps showcased Canada's mysterious aquatic species-the leatherback turtle, white sturgeon, North Atlantic right whale and northern cricket frog. This year, sights are soaring upwards to the animals in the sky.
Easily spotted by the checkered black and orange wings from which this butterfly gets its name, a Taylor's checkerspot (Ephydras editha taylori) flutters onto the first stamp. The roseate tern (Sterna dougallii), aerial acrobat of the coastal zones, dives, darts, hovers, and plunges onto the second stamp. The peculiar burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) wobbles onto the next stamp. And the prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) scurries onto the fourth stamp in a bright, showy dash.
Throughout the series, designers David Sacha and Karen Satok of Toronto's Sputnik Design Partners aimed to offset the innate beauty of each species with the unfortunate reality of their condition. "Our aim was to stress the vital need to protect these creatures and their homes," explains Sacha. Each stamp features an endangered animal in very rich, natural colours against a soft, neutral background. "We integrated lush, metallic blues into the design in order to exude an airy feel, as these are all creatures of the sky," Sacha adds.
Renowned for his ability to produce fine detail, Doug Martin, the illustrator for the series, worked with acrylic paint on 10" by 12" illustration boards, using fine brushes to capture the intricacies of each species. The illustrations place the creatures in the foreground of the stamp, positioning them as the centre of importance. "The overall idea was really to put emphasis on the species itself," explains Sacha. They stand out against their fading backdrops, which recall their fragile existence and degenerating habitats. He elaborates, "the background shows just how easily things can change."
To Danielle Trottier, Manager of Stamp Design and Production at Canada Post, releasing the last installment of this series has been bittersweet. "Working with these fascinating species for the past three years has been such a great experience. And though it's sad to let them go, it's really nice to see how well each set-the creatures of the earth, the water, the sky-came together as a series and complemented one another. The insightful designs really do justice to these remarkable animals and convey the threat of their extinction perfectly."
Indeed, this series will make an excellent collectible and an engaging teaching tool both in the classroom and at home. Each of these creatures reminds us where we stand in the grand circle of life, for the loss of their habitats foreshadows the loss of our own. As Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki once put it, "We need to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water and continents are inter-connected. That is our home."
Facing the Facts
Creatures of the Air (2008)
- At least 23 sites in B.C. hosted the Taylor's checkerspot over the past century, including ten in Greater Victoria, one on the road from Mill Bay to Shawnigan Lake, and three on Hornby Island. Today, its Canadian range is restricted to B.C.'s Garry oak meadows, much of which has been destroyed.
- Burrowing owls were common prairie and B.C. residents until modern agricultural practices began in the mid-1900s. Fewer than 1,000 pairs are thought to be remaining in the prairies today.
- The roseate tern has suffered major population declines all around the world, with an estimated fewer than 140 pairs left in Canada.
- The prothonotary warbler has shown an 80 per cent decrease in abundance over the last 10 years, and its current population is between 28 and 34 birds.
Creatures of the Water (2007):
- The leatherback turtle's population has dropped by more than 70 per cent globally in the past 15 years.
- The white sturgeon has suffered a 50 per cent decline in the past three generations, and three of six populations face an imminent threat of extirpation.
- The North Atlantic right whale's total population is currently about 322 (220-240 mature) animals-a number that continues to decrease due largely to ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.
- If any northern cricket frogs exist today, they are exclusive to Pelee Island.
Creatures of the Land (2006):
- The current population of the Newfoundland marten is from 300 to 600 mature creatures.
- Blue racers are almost certainly extirpated from mainland Ontario and are now exclusive to the eastern two-thirds of Pelee Island.
- The swift fox was once extirpated from Canada. Though a small population has since been re-introduced to the prairies, coyote predation and habitat loss continue to pose risks.
- The blotched tiger salamander was last seen in southern Ontario in 1915 at Point Pelee and has not been spotted since.
- Denomination: 4 x 52¢
- Design: Sputnik Design Partners Inc.
- Illustration: Doug Martin (i2iart Inc.)
- Paper Type: Tullis Russell
- Printer: Lowe-Martin
- Printing Process: Lithography in 9 colours
- Tagging: General, 4 sides
- Product #: 413715111
- Layout: Booklet of 8 stamps
- Price: $4.16
- Dimensions: 50.5 mm x 27 mm (horizontal)
- Gum Type: Pressure sensitive
- Perforations: Kiss cut
- Quantity: 3,000,000
- Product #: 403715145
- Layout: Souvenir sheet of 4 stamps
- Price: $2.08
- Dimensions: 160 mm x 75 mm
- Gum Type: P.V.A.
- Perforations: 13+
- Quantity: 200,000