Zoo backs out of Quebec government's caribou-moving scheme

The Quebec Wildlife Ministry will not move a dwindling herd of woodland caribou from the site of a proposed mining project near Val-d'Or, after a zoo in Saint-Félicien said Tuesday it will no longer take the animals.

Only 15 woodland caribou left near Val-d'Or, in area also coveted by mining company

There only between 6,000 and 9,000 woodland caribou left in Quebec. (Submitted by Katrina Noel)

The Quebec government will not move a dwindling herd of caribou from the site of a proposed mining project near Val-d'Or, after a zoo in Saint-Félicien said Tuesday it will no longer take the animals.

In April, Wildlife Minister Luc Blanchette announced the government was taking the "exceptional" measure of moving the last 15 woodland caribou in the area to a wildlife preserve in Saint-Félicien, almost 400 kilometres away.

The plan, however, was widely criticized by environmental groups, who said it was better to protect the herd in its original habitat. 

Last week, Quebec's public environmental review agency — known by its French acronym, BAPE — suggested that further research is needed before the government presses ahead with the move. 

It would be "premature to conclude that it would be impossible to restore the population" in Val-d'Or, the BAPE report said.

'Social acceptibility' of plan an issue

Blanchette has repeatedly brushed such criticisms aside, insisting the plan is sound and necessary to preserve the remaining caribou and ensure the herd's survival.

But on Tuesday, the Saint-Félicien zoo said it was no longer willing to take part. In a brief statement, the zoo said it came to the decision after considering "social acceptability issues." 
Quebec Wildlife Minister Luc Blanchette said Tuesday his decision to move the herd 'was guided by my desire to protect them and ensure their survival.' But he said he has no choice now but to leave the 15 remaining caribou where they are. (Radio-Canada)

In a statement, Blanchette said he's left with no choice but to go along with the zoo's decision and leave the last of the herd where it is.

The BAPE concerns were included in its study of a mining project proposed by Agnico Eagle. The company is seeking permission to open a copper and gold mine just southwest of Val-d'Or.

But the mineral deposits are also located beneath the roaming grounds of the caribou. The BAPE report warned that if the mining project went ahead, it would damage the animals' habitat.

A spokesperson for Agnico Eagle said the company is currently studying the BAPE's recommendations.

There are only between 6,000 and 9,000 woodland caribou remaining in the province. 

With files from Julia Caron