Caribou poo 'important baseline' for DNA research

Researchers are asking some hunters in the Northwest Territories to bring home more than just caribou meat when they go on their spring hunts.

Researchers hope caribou samples will help explain relationship between different herds

Some hunters in the Northwest Territories are being encouraged to bring home more than just caribou meat when they go on their spring hunts.

It's something most people like Jean Polfus want to avoid: caribou scat — or poop.

"People call me 'The Poop Lady' … Although 'Caribou Poop Lady' is a little bit nicer," she said. 

​Polfus is a student and a researcher, who funnels gum-ball-size caribou droppings into a Ziplock bag because they contain valuable information about the animals' genetic makeup.

Jean Polfus is a student and researcher who is asking hunters in the Sahtu to gather caribou scat to help study the DNA of the Woodland Caribou herd. (CBC)
"We'll just take a Q-Tip and swab the outside of the pellet once it's warmed up and we will collect the DNA from that," Polfus said.

Each bag someone brings back from a hunting trip earns him or her a $25 gas card.

Woodland Caribou populations are threatened in the Northwest Territories, so the scat samples could help researchers figure out how to save the herds.

Polfus hopes the samples reveal new details about the Woodland Caribou, specifically if the herds in the Sahtu, a region that runs along the Mackenzie Mountains and includes five communities, have mating caribou that would traditionally graze elsewhere.

"The genetic information as well as the information that people have can be used as important baseline information that can be monitored over time. Especially with different industrial developments that are happening in the Sahtu," she said. 

That's information Polfus — and the hunters — can't wait to dig up.