Bathurst caribou decimated by wolves, bears, mines, climate



As a former Bathurst Inlet resident, and a hunter and trapper from the area, I can understand why the Bathurst caribou herd has been declining rapidly for the last several years.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, residents hunted and trapped around the Bathurst Inlet area, where most people hunted and trapped for furs. And they contributed in maintaining healthy numbers of the Bathurst caribou herd. During that time, there was a wolf control program where wolves were hunted year round, and grizzly bears killed for their hides by local Inuit hunters.

Today, there is nobody doing any wolf-hunting in the area, except for a couple of people who still live there. That’s why the wolf and grizzly populations have exploded to extremely high levels, which leaves the caribou herd in a state of very high risk.

As a former trapper from the area, I used to go out trapping with my dad around Daniel Moore Bay. I have personally observed the wolf population that follows the Bathurst caribou herd and was surprised how widespread it is.

In the wake of the caribou herd there is not a pack of wolves, but a herd of wolves, following right behind this caribou herd. After the wolves had disappeared towards the caribou, we followed the wolves, and encountered many, many freshly-killed caribou, not even consumed. My late father at that time was nearly killed along with his dog team, by that very large herd of wolves.

A caribou cow only makes one calf per year, but a family of wolves makes a litter of four to six a year, and grizzly bears tend to have one or two cubs a year. An adult wolf probably consumes 30 to 50 caribou a year. Grizzly bears probably consume around 10 to 30 caribou per year.

A family of eight wolves will consume about 400 caribou a year, and when you have a herd of wolves killing caribou in huge amounts, I believe the caribou will be decimated in a very short few years.

My late younger brother used to work at Lupin Gold Mine on Contwoyto Lake several years back when it was in operation, and it is right in the way of the Bathurst caribou herd migration route. He used to tell me that there were many, many dead caribou around the area.

The reason for this is that the mine dumped arsenic trioxide (used for removing gold) right onto the tundra, with no fencing where caribou were drinking the poison. You could see caribou tracks on this poison water and mud and you wonder why caribou are encountering brucellosis in their limbs. There are more mines proposed for the Bathurst Inlet area where there are no plans for the fencing-in of mine waste-water, which will continue to play havoc with the migrating caribou.

The mild weather, raining and re-freezing of snow may have contributed to the decline of caribou as well. Caribou need a lot of food energy to survive the winters, and snow-cover freezing and thawing may contribute to the starvation of many animals. Open waters in rivers also contribute to drowning of caribou on their migrations as well.

In order for the Bathurst caribou herd population to be back to healthy levels, all levels of government, federal and territorial will have to introduce predation control programs for wolves and grizzly bears.

Also, the regulators will have to have stricter regulations where mining companies proposing to open up mines must have fencing programs for their mine waste-water management.

As an elder, I believe if these programs are in place, the Bathurst caribou herd will once again be back to being 500,000 strong.

Editor’s note: It’s estimated that the Bathurst caribou herd’s population declined from 460,000 in 1986, to 186,000 in 2003. John Komak, former Kitikmeot resident who now lives in Yellowknife, used to live in the Bathurst Inlet area.

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