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In-depth
Caribou in Canada
Across the country, caribou are struggling to survive in their ever-changing habitat. Facing a modern world, they are losing the battle.

  Caption Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service   

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 quickly. 

"... 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 natural habitat. 

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.

By Sheri Gagnon


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Caribou in Canada
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Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Serv./B.Stevens
The Peary caribou were named after Robert Peary, an American Naval Officer who led several northern expeditions in the early 1900s.
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