Seven adult caribou captured and transferred to a maternity pen in the Kuskanax Creek area near Nakusp Hot Springs this spring are confirmed to be pregnant and should start giving birth around the end of the month.
The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society, which is working to save the central Selkirk herd, made the announcement on its website.
“The animals in the pen have adjusted quite well,” says Aaron Reid, a wildlife biologist with the BC Caribou Recovery Program, who adds that the maternity pen gives the calves a better chance to survive.
Infant caribou in the wild are highly vulnerable to predators, such as wolverines, bears, and other carnivores, he says.
“About 85 to 90 per cent of cows give birth, but we lose those calves in the first week. That’s once of the things really limiting population growth.”
In addition to being protected from predators, the cows and calves are receiving “high-value nutritional food, so their body conditions are improving as well.”
The adults and calves will be released in July and monitored. Reid says about 24 hours after birth, the calves have tracking collars placed on them. Waiting any later and they become too quick to catch.
“We consider it a success if the calves reach next spring,” Reid says. “They’re at a very critical point. If we lose any more adult cows in that population we risk our ability to recover it.”
The herd is believed to total 28, including bulls, but Reid says the breeding females are critical. Once the number slips below 10, the population can’t be recovered.
“This is just the first year. The concept is to double or triple calves compared to [survival in] the wild. We need multiple years of this in a row in order to have a population impact.”
Reid says a similar project in northern BC has been successful, tripling the population, but it has taken several years and other avenues including predator culls to achieve.
The caribou in the local pen were captured from three locations northeast of Nakusp by the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society using the combined effort of 32 people, three helicopters, and two snowmobiles, led by wildlife experts and scientists.
With files from Dennis Walker