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Population of George River caribou herd continues to dwindle

George River caribou herd.
George River caribou herd. - SaltWire Network

2018 census estimates just 5,500 animals remain

ST. JOHN’S, N.L.

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

CANADA

The dramatic decline of the George River caribou herd shows no signs of a turnaround, according to the latest census conducted in July.

The 2018 census – conducted by biologists from Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec this summer with the direct participation of Indigenous representatives from both provinces – puts the size of the herd at 5,500 animals.

That’s a 38 per cent drop from two years ago and a 99 per cent decline since 2001, when the herd was estimated at 385,000 animals.

Harvest restrictions, including the end of commercial hunting, were triggered when the population dropped to an estimated 74,000 caribou in 2010. The population in 2016 was estimated to be 8,900, even though hunting had been completely shut down.

Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne called the continued decline of the herd “serious and disturbing.”

“My department continues to reach out to Labrador Indigenous governments and communities, the Government of Quebec, and the Federal Government to develop a co-management approach that would support the recovery of these iconic and vital animals,” he said in a release today, Sept. 21.

The George River caribou herd’s range is remote, with currently low levels of habitat disturbance, according to the release.

Wolf abundance is being monitored and seems to be quite low over the herd range, and testing shows caribou are currently healthy with decreasing prevalence of parasites.

Surveys of recruitment carried out in October 2016 and 2017 documented good numbers of calves born into the population.

In 2017, at the request of Indigenous governments and communities in Labrador, the provincial government decided against a recommendation by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to list the George River caribou herd as endangered.

Instead, an agreement was reached to develop a co-management approach between Indigenous governments and communities and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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