Caribou pair saved from half-frozen icy river near Cross Lake

A mama caribou and her baby bounced back into the woods Wednesday after a rescue crew saved the pair from an icy death.

Hoofed duo finds way out of frigid predicament with help from conservation officers, rescue crews

Conservation officer Matt Burke talks with CBC Radio Noon host Janet Stewart about how he and others saved a pair of caribou from icy death on Wednesday.

A caribou cow and calf bounced back into the woods after a rescue crew saved the pair from an icy death on Wednesday.

Conservation workers teamed up with the Cross Lake fire unit after a report of two caribou stuck in the ice of the Minago River near the First Nation community, about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Someone in the area reported seeing a herd of boreal caribou cross the thin ice when the calf and mother cow fell through at about 10 a.m.

The pair was stuck in the ice for at least two hours before the team arrived.

Matt Burke and another colleague hopped aboard the Cross Lake fire unit's airboat to free the pair. (Province of Manitoba)

"I was quite impressed they were still able to stay swimming in the conditions," said Matt Burke, a conservation officer and Norway House district supervisor with Manitoba Sustainable Development.

"I'm not too sure what their plan was. Maybe they thought they could swim across but it obviously didn't work out."

Mild weather has made for dangerous "half frozen, half-thawed" ice conditions on the river, which prevented rescue crews from using a conventional boat to get to the caribou.

Broken ice trails show the distance the caribou pair (those two tiny dots in the distance) swam before getting stuck. (Province of Manitoba)

The Cross Lake community council lent conservation officials an airboat, which can skim across uneven surfaces with ease, as well as a few members of its fire rescue unit to help.

The group hopped in the airboat and headed out onto the ice. The sight of the boat coming toward her brought something out in the mother. She twisted and kicked her way out of the frozen predicament, swam through an icy maze and made it ashore before the crew had a chance to lend a helping hand.

Brook managed to slip a snare around the baby caribou, which was then pulled to shore by the airboat. (Province of Manitoba)

"I'm sure that we gave it some inspiration in that way," Burke laughs.

The team made its way to the calf. Burke slipped a snare safely over its head and the boat dragged the calf to shore where the adult caribou was waiting.

The calf was helped to shore by the crew. (Province of Manitoba)

"They both kind of got up and ran into the bush, and the cow actually turned back, came out of the bush and bluff charged us. They're very protective of their young," Burke said.

"We wouldn't be able to do it without the Cross Lake fire rescue airboat and they were very essential to getting the caribou rescued."

Boreal caribou are listed as a threatened species on the provincial and federal level.

One Norway House resource management technician, two members of the Cross Lake fire and rescue unit and Manitoba Sustainable Development conservation officer Matt Burke (far right) smile after helping to rescue the caribou pair. (Province of Manitoba)


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.