THE DISAPPEARING ANIMALS
As told by Doug Williams to Julie Kapyrka
As a child, I grew up spending a lot of time in the tri-lakes: Pigeon, Buckhorn, and Chemong. Those lakes were very significant in terms of the wetlands that were established along the shorelines and consequently they held a lot of animal life such as birds and frogs and fish.
One of the birds that we used to listen out for because it was very nostalgic for us was the American Bittern. In the language we call it MOOSHKA’OSI - translated literally means: bird of the marsh. This bird had an unusual call, like a guttural ‘glug glug’ sound. Deep into quiet nights and evenings you would hear this American Bittern.
Today the American Bittern is not around. I’ve not seen one for about 3 years. They are very rare now and I miss them very much. The food source for the American Bittern is the frog, namely the Leopard Frog and they were well fed in the old days because there were a lot of frogs.
The frog itself is disappearing. The one that is very important to us is the Bullfrog because we can hunt it for food. The Bullfrog, in the language we call CHI-DEHN-DEHN. And this frog would have big legs with a quarter pound of meat – you would fry it up like chicken, you put a nice coating on it and you could not beat it.
Today, I don’t hear any of their sound. In the springtime they would roar at each other in mating season. I miss that sound.
There are other frogs too that disappeared – the Leopard Frog and the Chorus Frog. What are we going to have left as the sounds of spring when we don’t have these animals? It will be a sad day when they totally disappear.
Over the years there have been other changes around here when it comes to animals. The Eastern Cougar has disappeared. The Cougar was very much a swamp animal living in the deep woods and I would hear it crying and snarling in the bush when I was young. However, the last I ever saw of any evidence of an Eastern Cougar was footprints across Buckhorn Lake at the north end towards Harvey Township. When I was about 10 years old I saw these tracks with my great uncle Madden who identified them as being of the big cat: CHI-KAAZHAG. And they have not been seen since.
The Ontario Grey Wolf has also declined. I think what has happened is that the Western Coyote has moved into the area and is very invasive. Even though it’s smaller, it is much more aggressive and the Grey Wolf will back off. There are only a few remnants of them now and the bigger packs survive in the Algonquin Park area.
We used to have all kinds of interesting fish including the Lake Trout, the Sturgeon, and the big Sucker. But we don’t find them anymore up and down the Trent system. Sturgeon Lake is named after this animal and once upon a time, thrived up there. But settlement soon did it in and it’s since disappeared. The Nishnaabe name for sturgeon is NAMEBIN.
The other story is one of the Brook Trout that used to be found in the odd stream around the area. One of the interesting aspects about this fish is there is still a number to be found in the Harper Creek which is at the southwest corner of Peterborough. These Brook Trout have not been genetically touched by any other species for thousands of years. It’s a unique population and they need to be protected. It’s threatened now by developments all around it.
Trout need cold water to survive. Salmon also need cold water. The Atlantic Salmon is no longer found in the area. The Atlantic Salmon was very abundant here in the early days and disappeared with the building of dams and with settlement occurring and the cutting down of trees which made it possible for the waters of rivers in the Trent system to warm up. Salmon have not come up the Trent Canal since settlement when they began to disappear; and some of the old salmon sub-species are also gone.
So this gives you an idea of the state of our animals and the birds and the fish. This list is nowhere near complete, it only gives you a glimpse of some of the animals that have disappeared in my lifetime. I miss these animals. I worry about these animals.
The Old Ones said that if we look after the animals, the animals will look after us…but that is another story.