N.W.T. caribou herd drops by 60,000 since 2003

The largest caribou herd in the Northwest Territories is less than a third of what it used to be 20 years ago.

The latest count of thelargest caribou herd in the Northwest Territories shows it has shrunk to less than a third of the size it was 20 years ago.

The survey shows there are 128,000 barren ground caribou in the Bathurst herd now, compared to 186,000 in 2003 and 472,000 in 1986.

The herd lives in ahuge area between Yellowknife and Bathurst Inlet on the Arctic coast, a regionwhere roads and diamonds mines have sprung up in the last couple of decades.

The Bathurst herddoes not include the Cape Bathurst herd which lives in the Beaufort Delta region and is also sufferinga decline.

Government biologist BrunoCroft, who released the results in Yellowknife Tuesday, said the 2006 Bathurst count is the most accurate done to date.

"We had the weather on our side. We were able to monitor the peak of calving and synchronize the photo census at the right time, so we're pretty confident that we've got good numbers," Croft said.

The 2003 numbers were questioned by aboriginal and sport hunters, who thought the numbers were too low.

Althoughthe herd continues to decline, it is still larger than it was in 1979 when biologists estimated there were only 110,000.