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Conservation of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Canada: an uncertain future

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Caribou (Rangifer tarandus (L., 1758)) play a central role in the ecology and culture of much of Canada, where they were once the most abundant cervid. Most populations are currently declining, and some face extirpation. In southern Canada, caribou range has retreated considerably over the past century. The ultimate reason for their decline is habitat alterations by industrial activities. The proximate causes are predation and, to a lesser extent, overharvest. The most southerly populations of “Mountain” caribou are at imminent risk of extirpation. Mountain caribou are threatened by similar industrial activities as Boreal caribou, and face increasing harassment from motorized winter recreational activities. Most populations of “Migratory Tundra” caribou are currently declining. Although these caribou fluctuate in abundance over decades, changing harvest technologies, climate change, increasing industrial development and human presence in the North raise doubts over whether recent declines will be followed by recoveries. The Peary caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi J.A. Allen, 1902), a distinct subspecies endemic to Canada’s High Arctic, has suffered drastic declines caused by severe weather, hunting and predation. It faces an increasing threat from climate change. While some questions remain about the reasons for the decline of Migratory Tundra caribou, research has clearly identified several threats to the persistence of “Boreal”, Mountain, and Peary caribou. Scientific knowledge, however, has neither effectively influenced policies nor galvanized public opinion sufficiently to push governments into effective actions. The persistence of many caribou populations appears incompatible with the ongoing pace of industrial development.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Département de biologie et Centre d’études Nordiques, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC J1K 2R1, Canada. 2: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, 720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 600, Toronto, ON M5S 2T9, Canada. 3: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada. 4: Département de biologie et Centre d’études Nordiques, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada. 5: 368 Roland Road, Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1V1, Canada.

Publication date: 2011-05-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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