A buck keeps a wary eye on the intruders. Scientists say that at least 45 per cent of caribou calves need to survive for the population to maintain its numbers. Currently, between 30 and 35 per cent of calves manage to escape predators such as bears, coyotes and lynx.
The provincial government said today a census completed in July on the George River caribou herd — which estimates the herd currently at approximately 27,600 animals — shows a significant decrease from the 2010 census which indicated 74,000 animals.
“The results of this survey are very concerning and confirm our fears that we have not yet seen the bottom of this current decline, particularly when you consider this herd was estimated at 800,000 animals in the late 1980s,” said Terry French, Minister of Environment and Conservation, in a news release.
“Despite the strict harvest management measures implemented in the last couple of hunting seasons, the results of the recent survey confirm that the George River herd is still declining at an alarming rate.”
The recent census was conducted by biologists with the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Québec Ministry of Natural Resources, with support from both the Institute of Environmental Monitoring and Research and the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-Management Board.
Other indicators of the health of the herd, such as the number of adults dying each year in comparison to the number of calves that survive, suggest that the population decline is continuing and it is estimated the herd will likely be below 25,000 by October.
While the precise cause of the decline in the herd is uncertain, there is evidence that changes in the quality, quantity and accessibility of food may have been a major contributing factor which initiated the decline. Other factors such as predators, disease, hunting, parasites, and the effects of climate change, may also currently be contributing to the decline.
Government says it has undertaken consultations with Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders, including the Government of Québec, to seek input on the management of the herd.
“Our officials have heard from many Aboriginal groups and other concerned parties on the significance and importance of caribou to people of this region, both in Quebec and in Labrador,” said French. “The current census information, along with other relevant scientific information, will be considered in concert with this important input in ensuring the appropriate management measures are implemented for 2012-13 and beyond. Our first priority is conservation of the George River caribou herd.”