A herd of half a million NWT caribou is now down to 16,000

Caribou
Barren-ground caribou have been in serious decline in the NWT since the 1990s. (Supplied by ENR.)
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There are now probably fewer caribou in the Bathurst herd than there are people in Yellowknife.

Thirty years ago, the same herd had a population larger than Kitchener, Ontario. Figures suggest the Northwest Territories’ Bathurst herd included some 470,000 animals in 1986.

If Yellowknife’s population had shrunk at the same rate over the same period, the city would now be smaller than Deline – population 472.

The caribou figures for 2015 were confirmed by the territorial government on Monday, having been reported by Moose FM earlier in September.

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“The evidence is incomplete,” said territorial biologist Jan Adamczewski in a statement. “[But] we suspect poor environmental conditions, possibly on the summer range, are leading to reduced pregnancy rates and reduced calf survival rates.”

Declines ‘not unique’

Surveys conducted in June and July suggest the Bathurst herd has dropped from about 32,000 in 2012 to between 16,000 and 22,000 in 2015.

The number of breeding cows has halved in that time.

Preliminary results suggest the Bluenose-East herd has also declined from around 68,000 animals in 2013 to between 35,000 and 40,000 now. The Bluenose-West herd has fallen from 20,000 in 2012 to about 15,000.

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“These declines are not unique to herds in the NWT,” said the territorial government in a statement, adding it was “working collaboratively” to preserve the remainder of the herds.

“Barren-ground caribou herds in Alaska and Nunavut are also declining,” the statement continued.

“The declining trend in the Bathurst and Bluenose-East caribou herds is consistent with generally declining trends in migratory tundra caribou herds in North America.”

A final report on the caribou population survey will be released later this fall.

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