In final effort to revive herds, 6 remaining caribou to be relocated to rearing pen

In a desperate measure to try to save the mountain caribou's most southerly herds, provincial biologists are about to purposely relocate the last remaining animals that range into the states south of B.C.

When last members of South Selkirk, South Purcell herds are moved, species will disappear from contiguous U.S.

Numbers of caribou in B.C. are in decline — with just six remaining in the two most southerly herds. (Getty Images)

Caribou are about to disappear completely from the contiguous United States — and the B.C. government is to blame.

In a desperate measure to try to save the mountain caribou's most southerly herds, provincial biologists are about to purposely relocate the last remaining animals that range into the states south of B.C.

Large caribou populations still exist in Alaska, Yukon and B.C., though their numbers have been in steady decline. 

The two herds near the province's southern border contain just six mountain caribou between them: two cows in the South Selkirk herd around Nelson, and three bulls and a cow in the South Purcell herd, near Kimberley.

All six will be netted and taken to a rearing pen north of Revelstoke.

"The plan is to capture the remaining six animals this winter," says biologist Leo Degroot, who adds that their numbers can no longer sustain the herds.

"They are functionally extirpated already. Two females on their own have no future. And in the Purcells, three bulls and a cow are functionally extirpated as well." 

'They are basically the walking dead'

The relocation of Canada's most southerly herds of caribou means they'll disappear from their territory in the lower U.S. states completely. The South Selkirk caribou are the last of the species to range into Washington and Idaho.

The Kalispel Tribe in Washington has tried to help revive the herd without any success.

"Culturally, they are such a significant animal historically, and it is definitely not where we want to be. But it's better then letting the population blink out and lose the genetics entirely,' said tribe spokesperson Mike Lithgow.

The relocation of Canada's most southerly herds of caribou means they'll disappear from their territory in the lower U.S. states completely. (Wildlife Infometrics)

After biologists capture the six remaining caribou, they hope to try captive breeding at the Revelstoke pen, which was set up deep in the bush to keep caribou away from predators.

If the plan works, biologists hope to one day restock the two southern herds.

"I'm not surprised the animals are being taken out of the habitat," says Candace Batycki, an advocate with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

"They are basically the walking dead. This is a last-ditch effort. The question we have to ask ourselves is, 'how did it get to this state?'"

With files from Bob Keating

South Selkirk caribou are close to a local extinction. The CBC's Bob Keating describes the last ditch efforts to save the dwindling species. 8:37