Losing a national symbol?
The caribou, one of Canada’s most recognized national symbols,
is experiencing dramatic population declines.
In the past year, the Canadian government has convened discussions
with wildlife managers, scientists, aboriginal leaders, non-governmental
organizations, outfitters and residents to determine what action
is needed to save the caribou. As Pat Bell, British Columbia's
Minister of Agriculture and Lands, said in mid-October, the caribou
populations did not disappear overnight, nor will they recover as
"... the caribou populations did not disappear overnight, nor will they recover as quickly."
Caribou numbers decline naturally when predators, such as wolves
and grizzly bears, predominate or when plants and lichens caribou
feed on decline. In the past, the herds have always rebounded
when wolf populations drop from rabies, for example, or when favourable
weather sustains more vegetation growth.
Wildlife experts are now suggesting that human activity may be
an increasingly significant factor in the declines. Research illustrates
that overhunting, industrialization of the North and the effects
of global warming are part of the reason for the decreasing numbers
of caribou. Our hunger for oil, diamonds and recreational
sports, such as snowmobiling or heli-skiing, all disrupt the caribou's
The antlered ungulates aren’t the only ones to suffer.
Animals that prey on caribou will also struggle to survive and
adapt as their primary food source declines. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal
residents and outfitters in the North will too struggle too as
their livelihood becomes at risk.
In this editon, and in the November/December
issue of Canadian
Geographic magazine, we explore the issues surrounding
the current decline of the caribou in Canada.
To count a herd as accurately as possible, they are tracked by radio collars. When the herds combine into a large group, they are photographed. The number of caribou counted in the photo is compared with the number of radio collars initially dispersed and an estimation is given through the ratio.