By Matthew Van Dongen
Local conservationists foiled a suspected theft of endangered Jefferson salamanders Tuesday night, chasing a would-be amphibian snatcher by car until he was pulled over by police.
The Hamilton Conservation Authority is considering pressing trespassing charges against a 20-something male seen at the pond that night, said executive director Chris Firth-Eagland.
But the bigger concern is whether the location of the off-the-beaten path breeding ponds in Dundas is now common knowledge among poachers, he said.
“Poaching is always a significant concern — these salamanders are nationally endangered,” he said, noting there is a black market for illegal pets. “There is no concrete evidence of poaching (in this case), but everything about the circumstances points to our (witnesses) being right on the mark.”
Early April is breeding season for the rare salamander, which is protected nationally. It is found in only a few pockets of forest in Ontario, mostly along the Niagara Escarpment. Those pockets include Burlington near King Road, and parts of Ancaster and Dundas.
Board member Jim Howlett said he and a conservation authority staffer visited a breeding pond, which he doesn’t want to identify, on a rainy Tuesday after 9 p.m. to see if the elusive amphibians had arrived.
Instead, they found a black pickup truck with a large sample jar and a cooler.
Howlett said they walked towards the pond and watched a man with a headlamp “trying to scoop things out of the pond.”
They walked back to the vehicle to call a provincial tip line and police. The man returned to his truck shortly thereafter, according to Howlett, and pulled a hoodie over his face after realizing he was being watched.
Howlett said he followed the truck for more than half an hour to direct police. More....