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Six endangered butterflies raised in captivity have been released into the wild here in southeastern Manitoba.

The Assiniboine Park Conservancy says after a multi-year, collaborative research and conservation effort, it's Conservation and Research Department successfully released six captive-reared Poweshiek Skipperling butterflies at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Tall Grass Prairie Natural Area near Tolstoi.

Laura Burns is a conservation research specialist. She says recent estimates suggest that there may be fewer than 100 of these Poweshiek butterflies left in Canada. And like a canary in coal mine, this is not good news for the environment.

"Butterflies can tell us a lot about ecosystem health. They are really acute environmental indicators so if something is wrong with the environment a butterfly is usually the first thing that will react to that. We are trying to keep them around long enough to figure out what that is."

The Conservancy says a loss of habitat has resulted in the dramatic decline of several highly specialized grassland species, including the Poweshiek Skipperling, and the Tall Grass Prairie Natural Area is one of only two small, isolated locations where the butterfly can still be found. The other is near Flint, Michigan.

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