After spending several months in a maternity pen near Nakusp Hot Springs, six adult female caribou, six calves, and one yearling have been released back into the wild.
The Arrow Lakes Caribou Society kept the animals in a 6.6-hectare pen since March, where they were protected from predators, as part of efforts to help increase the herd’s dwindling population.
On July 22, the fabric on their enclosure was cut and they exited the pen and made their way into the alpine.
“It was a big relief to see the calves explore the wild for the first time and that the mothers knew exactly where to go,” said project co-ordinator Erin McLeod. “They made it up into the alpine really quickly, which was great.”
All are being monitored through GPS collars, which transmit signals allowing the society to keep track of their whereabouts.
Immediately after the release, the caribou stayed around the pen, but McLeod said within a few days they started to branch out, and now three have made it back to their usual range, 17 to 25 kilometers away, “which was pretty amazing.”
She said while the project is a success so far, they won’t be able to fully evaluate it until the calves are 10 months old, which will give them a true measure of their survival rate.
The pen started with seven cows, but one died. All the rest gave birth.
McLeod said the plan is to operate the pen for at least five years and then re-evaluate whether it has helped the population. If so, they would continue to operate it like the Klinse-Za pen in northern BC.
“We were pretty happy with how the pen operated because we had so much support from government and society members and other volunteers. There was a lot of good communication the whole time. It was a really well thought-out project.”