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Comeback for the endangered caribou

The Story


Imagine a herd of caribou so immense that it takes days for all of it to cross a river or a road. Now imagine that same herd dwindling to just one per cent of its peak size. The "Fortymile" caribou herd that once ranged from Alaska to the Yukon was on the verge of extinction in the 1970s but is now recovering thanks to a strong management plan. In 2002, the herd resumed its traditional migration over the Yukon River for the first time in fifty years. CBC's Bob MacDonald talks to renowned caribou expert Rick Farnell. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Quirks & Quarks
Broadcast Date: Nov. 30, 2002
Guest: Rick Farnell
Host: Bob McDonald
Duration: 16:45
Photo: National Archives of Canada - PA 022498

Did You know?


• The herd is named after the Fortymile River, located near the geographical centre of its original range, which stretched from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon.

• A rough census by American biologist Olaus Murie in 1920 estimated the herd numbered over 500,000. Murie claimed it took 20 days for the Fortymile herd to cross the Stesse Highway in Alaska.

• Seemingly abundant and easily accessed by new highways built in the 1950s and 60s, the Fortymile herd was ravaged by hunting.

• At its lowest point the herd numbered just over 5,000.

• In 2002, biologists estimate the numbers were around 46,000.

• Prior to 2002, the last recorded crossing of the Yukon River was in 1942.

• In the interest of regenerating the Fortymile herd, both environmentalists and hunters made temporary concessions. Hunters agreed to reduce their take of caribou, and environmentalists supported the use of wolf fertility control as an innovative, non-lethal form of wolf control.

• The dominant alpha males and females from 16 wolf packs were sterilized, thus reducing the size of the pack over a span of years. Despite their reduced numbers, packs hold their territory, effectively becoming guard packs to the herd.

• The caribou comeback is not the only success story in Canada. As of 2003, fourteen species previously considered at risk by COSEWIC had recovered sufficiently to be removed from the list. Several others were stable enough to be moved to a less urgent category.

• The swift fox was designated as extirpated in Canada in 1978, but thanks to recovery initiatives was moved to endangered in 1999.

• Other species that were moved to a less urgent category include the American white pelican, the Athabasca thrift, Baird's sparrow and two different populations of Beluga whale.


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