Help is on the way for the mountain caribou, as 19 animals from northern B.C. have been transferred to join a threatened herd in the East Kootenays.
The transfer was handled by biologists from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, working alongside local First Nations and volunteers, to bolster the fragile population.
The Purcells-South herd, in the East Kootenay region, is estimated to have fewer than 15 individual animals remaining. The additional caribou are expected to increase genetic diversity and overall herd strength.
The new caribou are from a healthy donor herd near Dease Lake, and have been fitted with GPS radio collars to track their movements. Caribou were moved by road in animal trailers specially designed for this purpose. Arboreal lichen - a key part of their diet in their new home - was sent to Dease Lake to provide a ready food source for the caribou during transport.
Seventeen females and three males were captured. Regrettably, one of the females died during transport.
Wolves and cougars in the recipient area have also been GPS radio collared. Scientists led by Dr. Dennis Jelinski at the University of Victoria's Laboratory for Landscape and Ecosystem Ecology will be working with provincial biologists to study the interactions between the caribou and local predators, better informing future decisions on their management.
The project was aided in Dease Lake by members of the Tahltan First Nation and in the East Kootenay by members of the Ktunaxa First Nation, in whose traditional territory the donor and recipient herds respectively dwell.
The University of Calgary and Parks Canada provided wildlife veterinarians and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks provided three biologists to assist provincial staff with animal care during capture and release. Wildsight Canada also lent a hand with volunteers who assisted at the release staging area and the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program provided logistical and technical support.
There are approximately 1,700 mountain caribou throughout British Columbia. The species is listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act and red-listed (threatened) in B.C. Through the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan, the government of B.C. is committed to recover mountain caribou populations to pre-1995 levels of more than 2,500 animals by 2027.
Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations -
"Today we take a huge step toward the permanent recovery of the mountain caribou in the Purcell Mountains. I applaud all of the partners - from First Nations, researchers, volunteers and ministry staff - that worked so hard to make this transfer the success that it was."
Dr. Dennis Jelinski, University of Victoria -
"The University of Victoria is proud to be playing such an integral role in the research and monitoring of predator-prey relationships through use of state-of-the-art GPS radio collar data on caribou, cougars and wolf movements, and spatial analysis of those data. Understanding these relationships will help make scientifically informed decisions in the best interests of the Purcells-South caribou, and inform future decisions around other possible herd augmentations."
John Bergenske, Wildsight -
"Wildsight and the Mountain Caribou Project have partnered with the Province of B.C. in support of the endangered mountain caribou. We continue to work with the government to take meaningful steps to end the decline of this majestic species. We look forward to future efforts to restore mountain caribou throughout British Columbia."
Caribou transfer and herd augmentation is only one element of the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan. Other measures the government has taken since 2007 include:
- Prohibiting industrial road-building and logging, recreational snowmobiling and the sale of commercial recreational tenures on millions of hectares of caribou habitat, including nearly 213,000 hectares in the Purcells-South region.
- Developing a long-term captive breeding program in partnership with Parks Canada and the Calgary Zoo.
The transfer plan involves the movement of 40 animals over a two-year period to augment the Purcells-South herd.
The population goal for the Purcells-South herd is 100 caribou, 15 years after the first release.
To download photos from the transfer, visit:
Those interested in learning more about the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan and the other steps involved in saving this species can visit: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/speciesconservation/mc/index.html
Public Affairs Officer
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations