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Caribou herds in Canada's north are in sharp decline -- with some herds' numbers having fallen by 98 per cent, according to the World Wildlife Fund

Report: Canadian caribou in sharp decline


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, October 12, 2016, 7:44 PM - They're a Canadian icon, and in many ways the lords of the Arctic.

But Caribou herds in Canada's north are in sharp decline -- with some herds' numbers having fallen by 98 per cent, according to the World Wildlife Fund. WWF-Canada is sounding the alarm on the caribou's plight, and the organization is calling for curbs on mineral exploration activities in areas known to be caribou calving grounds.

WWF-Canada's president and CEO, David Miller, said the decline of the caribou in Canada is one of the country's biggest conservation issues, with entire herds potentially vanishing altogether.

A herd of barren-ground caribou in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba. Credit: Peter Ewins/WWF-Canada

A herd of barren-ground caribou in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba. Credit: Peter Ewins/WWF-Canada

"Not only is the loss of caribou detrimental to the health of Arctic ecosystems, it is a significant loss to our national heritage and to Indigenous communities, for which caribou play an important role in traditions and livelihoods," Miller said in a release from the organization. "The caribou grace Canada's 25-cent coins, but if we don't act soon, there's a risk that the only place Canadians will see caribou in abundance is on the quarter." 

The caribou are becoming casualties of warming temperatures. Sea ice, upon which they rely for migrations, is becoming less predictable, and WWF-Canada says more spring rain events could lead to the ground freezing over, limiting access to the lichen and plants on which they feed.

The group says increasing industrial activity in the north is another problem. Caribou are very sensitive to disturbances in their migration patterns and calving grounds.

"Appropriate industrial development may be helpful to the economy of Northern communities, but not at the expense of caribou," Miller says. "WWF-Canada is working alongside communities and policymakers to balance the needs of wildlife and development to ensure sensitive areas such as calving grounds are protected so caribou have the conditions they need to recover and remain a thriving part of Canada's Arctic."

Caribou in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon. Credit: Monte Hummel/WWF-Canada.

Caribou in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon. Credit: Monte Hummel/WWF-Canada.

WWF-Canada says the current draft of Nunavut's land use plan does ban industrial development in sensitive areas such as calving grounds and freshwater crossings, as well as limit on some ice-breaking activities, but more needs to be done before the plan is approved and caribou habitats have the protection they need.

There are 13 known barren-ground caribou herds. The worst-hit are the eastern mainland N.W.T. Bathurst herd (down 95 per cent) and the Baffin herd (down 98 per cent). Of the latter, only 5,000 individuals are believed to remain. WWF-Canada says another herd, the Beverly, whose range overlaps with the Bathurst herd, may have vanished altogether. Only two herds, in northern Yukon and Southampton Island, are believed to be growing.

Overall, less than half of barren-ground caribou, found in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, are left in the wild, according to WWF-Canada's figures.

SOURCE: WWF-Canada

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