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Beverly herd changes calving ground
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 5, 2011
The study stated female Beverly herd caribou had abandoned their "traditional" calving ground in favour of the Queen Maud Gulf area. It was published in the September 2011 edition of Ecological Applications.
"At the moment, most of the information is confirming what we thought and that's ... the Beverly herd has moved to the north to the Queen Maud Gulf area to calve" said study co-author Mitch Campbell, the Kivalliq regional biologist with the Department of Environment.
He added the government still doesn't know why the animals changed calving grounds but it suspects at some point, the caribou will return to their old calving ground.
"We suspect, as well, maybe this has been happening before we'd ever been looking at this and I think Inuit believe that as well," he said.
Gjoa Haven hunter Willie Aglukkaq said King William Island used to be covered in caribou, then the animals left before coming back. However, when one is on the mainland during the winter, it's possible to go more than 300 km and not see a caribou, he said.
"Since I was 10 years old, I've known the migration routes of caribou change," he said. "My father used to tell me they would leave for 20-25 years because of the droppings. All their droppings cover the land and they need to move on because they'll get sick if they're eating their own droppings."
Baker Lake hunters and trappers organization board member Joan Scottie said the board was not surprised the herd had moved.
"Hunters and elders have always said they (caribou) may have shifted their habitat or their migration due to too much activity in the area because there is a lot of flying around, mineral exploration and diamond drilling and campsites," said Scottie. "The hunters thought the disturbance is just too much so they have moved on but they didn't know where they moved on."
Campbell said the government is still assessing why the caribou change calving grounds and what the future might hold for the population. When the calving area changes, the caribou walk longer distances, for instance, so how that will impact their energy needs to be studied, said Campbell.
He added there never was a "lost" herd, just a difference of opinion of what might have happened to it. Caribou densities observed through surveys in the Northwest Territories were declining and two hypotheses were on the table.
"One school of thought was that the herd is disappearing. The other school of thought, which is my school of thought and the way hunters felt, was that the caribou are moving north for some reason - maybe predators, maybe disturbance - any one of these things can be involved. It's usually more than one thing that's involved," he said. "There was never, in our opinion, a lost herd. It's just we were trying to figure out what was going on and people were speculating based on the information they had."
The territorial government counted Beverly caribou for the first time in 17 years this past June but the preliminary results are not expected until January.
The survey consisted of counting the animals as well as determining their condition and distribution
The survey area includes the traditional Beverly herd calving ground west of Baker Lake; the Queen Maud Gulf area, where the caribou are now calving; and east almost up to Repulse Bay, where there is local knowledge of caribou calving in the area.
About 29 people, including about half from hunters and trappers organizations, used four airplanes to survey the areas between June 3 and 20.
Helicopters provided support to examine congregations of animals to determine their health and whether they are breeding.