Pregnant Caribou Airlifted Away From Hungry Wolves
Pregnant caribou airlifted away from hungry wolves in B.C. Source: news.nationalgeographic.com

First Nation peoples and researchers seek to protect pregnant caribou from wolves in British Columbia, Canada. The program, now in its second year, sedates pregnant caribou and airlifts the animals to pens guarded day and night by First Nation volunteers. Once the caribou mother has delivered and raised her calf the two are released back into the wild.

According to National Geographic, the extreme maternal rescue is needed because the caribou habitat has been reduced over 60% by energy exploitation in the remote region.  Clear cutting and road development has led mule deer and packs of wolves into the area and is threatening endangered caribou herds.

Pregnant Caribou Airlifted Away From Hungry Wolves
There was once a sea of caribou in the South Peace region of British Columbia, now the animals are on the endangered species list. Source: news.nationalgeographic.com

Caribou use to be the main staple for First Nation peoples, elders can remember a time when there was a sea of caribou in this rugged region. Encroaching development has altered caribou migration routes and destroyed traditional habitat. Now the Canadian government has listed the herds on the endangered species list and called for more drastic means to preserve the animals. Ryan Desjarlais, a First Nation volunteer working with the airlift project told reporters, “It means a lot to try and protect a species, especially one that is as hurting as this one. It would be nice to take my kid up to the territory where caribou used to roam, and say there are caribou back where they always were.”

In March the first caribou were brought to a pen near the South Peace region where volunteers feed and cared for the animals. Seven calves were born over the next two months with five surviving to release in late July. Once released the mothers and calves stayed within 12 miles of the pens, but all are still alive. The previous year several caribou had been killed by wolves shortly after being released back into the wild.

Pregnant Caribou Airlifted Away From Hungry Wolves
Oil and gas development in the region has brought packs of hunting wolves into the area threatening vulnerable caribou herds. Source: Gis.rdg.ac.uk

In addition to the airlift, officials are authorizing the controversial killing of wolves to try and save the caribou. Earlier this year officials authorized the killing of 73 wolves by helicopter and is planning to kill 800 more over the next five years according to National Geographic. The killing of wolves has not been without controversy.

A program in Alberta has killed over 1000 wolves to save a caribou herd of 70 animals. Ecologist Mark Hebblewhite at the University of Montana found that only 5% of the herd’s habitat was still intact after escalating oil and gas drilling in the area. Hebblewhite told reporters, “It is irresponsible and unethical to continue to kill wolves while continuing to degrade habitat.”

Pregnant Caribou Airlifted Away From Hungry Wolves
A recent report argues that the wolf packs are not the problem, rather diminishing habitat caused by oil and gas development has forced the current crises. Source: goodforforests.com
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