Caribou recovery program seeing success, says Revelstoke rearing project

Three years after it opened, the director of a program that protects pregnant caribou and their young calves says they are seeing improved survival rates compared to wild-born caribou.

50% of calves are still alive after 10 months; usually only 20-25% make it that far

A Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project volunteer keeps watch over two caribou captured in March and placed in a protective pen. (Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild)

A project to give a troubled caribou herd near Revelstoke a boost is seeing promising signs of success in its third year.

The Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project aims to start the animals' lives off on the right foot — or hoof — with a maternity pen where female caribou in the Columbia North herd can give birth and raise their calves for five to six months of life in a protected area.

"Our aim is to improve caribou survival," Kelsey Furk, executive director of the RCRW project told Radio West host Audrey McKinnon.

"Most wild caribou calves just don't make it … Most of them will perish within the first month of life. So maternal penning gives the calves a head start at the most vulnerable time of their lives."

In March of this year, the RCRW Project captured 12 female caribou, 10 of which were pregnant, and put them in the pen.

In late July, the adult and young caribou will be released into the wild and observed with satellite trackers until they reach 10 months of age.

Last year's calves did very well, Furk says. Of the 15 released into the wild, eight are still alive. Normally only about 20 or 25 percent calves live that long, Furk says.

The Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild pen, seen from the air. The pen was recently increased in size from six to nine acres. (Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild)

Furk says the Columbia North herd had approximately 210 animals in 1994, but that number had declined to about 150 by 2013.

"With conservation, we obviously need to take a long-term view," Furk said. "While there's been some bad news about caribou in the region, our whole team is very confident that it is possible to stabilize and recover the populations here."

The RCRW Project is scheduled to run for two more years as a pilot project.

With files from Radio West

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Revelstoke program raising caribou in 'maternal pens' seeing success, director says

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