The Nunavut government says quick action is needed to deal with the dwindling number of caribou on Baffin Island.
“Hunters still take a significant number of caribou annually," says Drikus Gissing, Nunavut’s director of wildlife management.
A survey released last May found the population may have declined by more than 95 per cent in the last two decades. At that time, researchers estimated the entire South Baffin population to be around 1,000 to 2,000 animals.
The results of an aerial survey of the North Baffin conducted this winter are now being shared with hunters groups before being released. Those numbers are said to be even more dire than in the south.
Gissing says finding a way to manage the harvest is now essential.
“Really the big problem, if you want to call it that now, is there’s still a lot of hunting pressure on the remaining caribou and they need to be given a bit of a break to allow them to recover.”
Gissing says cycles are natural for caribou, but there are additional pressures right now.
“When they’re at the bottom of the cycle, where they go through this natural decline, for them to recover we need to take away all the pressure that’s on them now, and one of those pressures now is hunting.
Caribou form a large part of the diet and culture Inuit in the Baffin, and giving up the hunt will amount to another round of massive social change for a society that’s undergone several in recent decades.
Gissing says it's clear the lack of caribou is having a big impact on the lives of Inuit, but he says it will take many years for the caribou to rebound.
He says the next step is to bring hunters together with other groups for a workshop in November, where the government will present management recommendations and hear ideas from hunters.
He's hoping they can reach decisions and come up with a management plan.
Former Innu Nation president predicts extinction of George River herd
The decline in caribou on the island comes at the same time as the George River herd in northern Quebec and Labrador has plummeted.
A former Innu Nation president in Labrador has called for a ban on all caribou hunting there.
Katie Rich says the use of snowmobiles has changed the hunt, and the natural cycles that herds go through.
Rich says without a ban, it's likely the herd — once the world's largest — will become extinct.