The caribou, America's version of the reindeer, is known by many as a holiday symbol. But this burly, muscular creature, with its distinctive antlers and impressive adaptations for challenging environments, plays a key role in the rich ecosystems of the Northern Hemisphere. Caribou are an important resource for indigenous peoples, a prey species for carnivores and omnivores, such as bears and wolves, and a critical source of nutrients for the soil in areas where they forage in large numbers.
Caribou in North America inhabit boreal and mountain regions, as well as the Arctic, and require large ranges. They are well adapted to the cold weather, with large hooves that allow them stay atop heavy snow and hair on the bottoms of their hooves for extra warmth. They are also the only deer species where males and females both have antlers.
In spite of their adaptability, from boreal forests to the Arctic, many caribou populations in North America are in decline. Over the past 150 years, caribou have lost about 40 percent of their southern range, having disappeared from the Maritimes and New England over a century ago. Many of the great "barren-ground caribou" herds from the western shores of Alaska to Nunavut's Baffin Island have experienced marked population drops in recent years, too. Although it is natural for caribou populations to fluctuate, additional pressures make it questionable whether numbers will recover as they have historically.
The primary threats facing caribou come from infrastructure development, land clearing associated with industrial-scale natural resource extraction, exacerbated by overharvest in some areas. Historically, caribou populations do not fare well in areas disturbed by humans and tend to steer clear of roads. The impacts of a changing climate are ill-understood but may be severe. For example, rain-on-snow events, which used to be rare in winter, have increased in frequency and severity, affecting caribou's habitat and access to food.
Our goal is thriving caribou populations across northern Canada and Alaska in all habitats in which they are found.
We aim to achieve our goal by:
- Conducting scientific research on caribou to help inform conservation strategies, with a particular focus on boreal caribou habitat restoration.
- Working with national and provincial governments on critical caribou habitat protection and recovery.
- Assessing the role of predators, such as wolves, bears and wolverines, in caribou declines.
- Monitoring caribou occupancy and recruitment, and threats to their populations and habitats.
- Evaluating environmental assessments for major development projects and devising best management practices.
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