August 02, 2006 17:43 ET

Saved by a Hare: LCBO, French Rabbit Winemaker and Wildlife Preservation Canada Join in Community Efforts to Recover an Endangered Songbird

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - Aug. 2, 2006) -

Attention: Lifestyle, Wine and Photo Editors

Editors Note: A photo for this release will be available on the CP picture wire via CCNMatthews.

Record-breaking sales of French rabbit wine are helping the recovery of a critically-endangered migratory songbird in Canada.

Last fall, winemaker Boisset pledged a contribution of 50 cents from each litre of French rabbit wines purchased at the LCBO, pledging up to $160,000 to support the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike recovery project. Strong sales have allowed Boisset to make the maximum contribution to Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC), and the winemaker has just announced it will contribute a further $160,000, for a total of $320,000, from customer purchases of its Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines.

The goal of the program is to help breed captive birds in special field cages and return them to the wild, with a goal of 500 wild pairs - enabling the species to be removed from the endangered species list. Captive breeding and release programs have contributed much to recovery efforts for the Peregrine Falcon and Whooping Crane. WPC is a Canadian charitable organization dedicated to saving endangered wildlife species from extinction and is part of a larger international organization with extensive experience in such recovery efforts.

WPC Executive Director Elaine Williams said Boisset's contribution helped expand the program this past year, and also inspired other foundations to donate money, significantly invigorating the community-based shrike recovery program and making expansion of effort possible.

With additional wintering and field breeding facilities, the preservation program has had its most productive year ever with more than 130 young raised. "This will help substantially with restoration of this endangered songbird if the birds continue to breed and nest as they have this summer", Williams said. WPC manages the captive population for the federal Department of the Environment in a conservation agreement associated with the federal Species at Risk Act.

During August of this year, 110 young-of-the-year Shrike will be released at two field locations in Ontario, on the Bruce Peninsula and on the Carden Plain. "We are hopeful that the shrikes we release this August will return to breed next year," Williams said.

Williams said it was critical to expand the program this year, given the success in 2004-05, when WPC tracked a captive-raised bird and found that upon its return from migration, the bird found a wild shrike mate and successfully fledged young, thus proving that captive-bred birds can help rebuild the wild population.

Jean-Charles Boisset, President of Boisset America and maker of French rabbit wine, said: "We based our global launch of French rabbit in Ontario because it has adventurous wine consumers who appreciate quality and value and are open to new concepts. We're thrilled that our commercial success will help save a threatened Ontario species." He added that he decided to pledge an additional $160,000 in acknowledgement of both consumer support and the project's success in helping reestablish Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes in the wild.

"Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes are the only predatory songbird in North America. With LCBO and Boisset support for expanded breeding and wintering facilities, we are able to take action so that this beautiful species will not become only a memory on Canada's grasslands, "Williams said.

LCBO President and COO Bob Peter said, "French rabbit's popularity with Ontario consumers supports wildlife projects and has encouraged other suppliers to offer customers premium wines in environmentally-friendly packages and participate in environmental conservation programs."

Boisset's contributions to the WPC are being channeled through the LCBO's Natural Heritage Fund, which also earmarks projects to preserve habitat for salmon, frog species, eagles and other wildlife in Ontario.

French rabbit wines were created for the Ontario market and introduced in August 2005. Based on their success here, the wines have been introduced in 35 U.S. states, as well as the U.K. French rabbit was also launched in Ireland in July, and is now being introduced into Australia and Denmark. It remains one of the best selling wines at the LCBO.

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