Caribou maternity pen project comes to an end in Southern B.C.

Experts say work needs to continue to prevent extinction

Earlier this year, wildlife cameras captured footage of bears chasing a lone baby caribou.

The calf’s name is Grace, after a mountain where her mother came from. Her mother died earlier this year. To help Grace escape predation the gates to a caribou maternity pen were reopened and the calf sought refuge inside.

“She’s now doing well and fattening up,” says Darcy Peel, acting director of the Caribou Recovery Program at the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

All of this is part of the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild project.

The project uses maternity pens, which are located on the west side of Revelstoke Lake to increase caribou calf survival in the North Columbia Mountains. While pregnancy rates for mountain caribou are high, the number of calves surviving to 10 months has declined. Current wild calf numbers in the herds are too low to sustain populations. Grace was born in the pen earlier this year and was released back in the wild last summer, but to help the calf survive she’s been re-admitted to the enclosure.

READ MORE: Revelstoke caribou maternity pen sees new inhabitants

Projects like this are important says Peel as “it adds knowledge to aid caribou recovery on the landscape.”

According to the B.C. government, caribou in the province has declined from 40,000 in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today. The Columbia South herd, near Revelstoke, had approximately 120 in 1994 and was reduced to seven in 2011. The Columbia North herd, also near Revelstoke was approximately 210 in 1994 and approximately 120 in 2011.

READ MORE: Dwindling caribou herds in B.C., Alberta face dire threat: feds

“Caribou recovery is complicated,” says Peel. The project is just one of the many efforts in place trying to help caribou recovery.

Pregnant caribou are placed in maternal pens and future caribou are born without predation, and gain strength and agility until they are released back into the wild. The program is in its fifth season of a five-year pilot, ending in March 2019. The project is currently analyzing data from the final year. Grace is the only caribou currently in the pen

The program hoped to increase calf survival rates to double or triple current rates in the wild where survival rates vary between 20 and 31 per cent. However, calves raised in the pen and then released have a 41 per cent survival rate.

“We haven’t seen the level of increase that we hoped for,” says Peel.

However, Peel says the project has not been a failure as six additional calves have been introduced to the wild that wouldn’t have survived otherwise.

To feed the penned caribou for the last five years, volunteers have picked lichen.

Lichen is a symbiotic partnership of three organisms: algae, fungi and yeast.

There are roughly 20,000 known species of lichen in the world and it’s estimated that six per cent of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen. They are among the first living things to grow on rocks after a landslide and can be very old. There’s an Arctic species that’s 8,600 years old, which is one of the oldest living organisms in the world. Lichen is also the main food source for caribou in Canada.

There are roughly 20,000 known species of lichen in the world and it’s estimated that six per cent of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

The caribou are fed 3 kg of lichen per day in the pens and during their stay they are slowly transitioned from lichen to pellets.

“We could never collect enough lichen to solely feed them lichen,” says Cat Mather, one of the volunteer lichen pickers. Mather has collected lichen for years as part of the project.

“I’m known as the lichen lady these days,” says Mather. As she talks there’s flecks of yellow lichen on her hair and clothes. It’s everywhere.

Since the pilot project is ending, the lichen picked two weeks ago south of Revelstoke is for another project.

Two B.C. caribou herds are teetering on the brink of extinction: South Purcell and South Selkirk.

In the Purcell South herd, there are three males and one female remaining and only two females in the South Selkirk.

Peel says it’s essential for the government to act.

“They will die out. It’s only a matter of time.”

Cory Legebokow, an ecosystem specialist with the B.C. government says a new project will attempt to save both herds.

The provincial government will take the herds and will either use them for a captive breeding program or reintroduce them into other herds.

“We’re not giving up. We’re recognizing that if we don’t do anything, they’ll die,” says Legebokow.

Both herds will be collected this winter, when conditions are right and placed in pens until a decision is reached.

In the case of a captive breeding program, a new facility would be constructed says Legebokow and while the adults would remain in captivity, future calves would be integrated into other herds.


 

@pointypeak701
liamm.harrap@revelstokereview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

There are roughly 20,000 known species of lichen in the world and it’s estimated that six per cent of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

Wayne Mather is a volunteer lichen picker. He came from Salmon Arm to Revelstoke to help pick because he says projects like this are important to save caribou. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

This is Rosemary Kelsall’s second time volunteering lichen picking. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review).

Just Posted

Noisy train whistles to stay at Harrison Mills rail crossing

A majority of residents didn’t want to pay for part of the $390K replacement crossing

HOMEGROWN: Family traditions key to Agassiz dairy farm

Julaine and Johannes Treur are keeping family traditions alive at their organic dairy farm

Vancouver TheatreSports finishes off Harrison’s Season of Performing Arts

Vancovuer TheatreSports will be performing in Harrison on May 4

Job market to remain tight in coming years: report

Conference Board of Canada predicts region’s unemployment rate to remain below five per cent

Chilliwack driver busted with heroin after nodding off behind the wheel

29-year-old man from Vancouver facing possible charges

Harrison Mills band holding contest to decide name

The local cover band will be announcing the winner at a concert on May 3

Woman, 60, charged in connection to thefts at YVR

RCMP believe the foreign national is part of a larger organized theft group

Vancouver man, 19, charged in human trafficking case involving teen girl

The 16-year-old girl was reported missing and later discovered in Vancouver

Worst 10 bus routes in Metro Vancouver for rider complaints

TransLink releases list, with Route 319 at the top

Mayors, First Nations chiefs, urge ‘immediate action’ on new Massey crossing

Joint letter asks province to move up timeline, consider only eight-lane tunnel options

Bus driver assault in Vancouver once again raises safety concerns

A 49-year-old Surrey man was released on a promise to appear in court. No charge has been laid

Amber alert issued for 5-year-old Ontario boy

Ethan Montes is believed to be in the company of his mother, 47-year-old Juliet Mohammed

VIDEO: FreshCo opens in Mission

Hundreds line up to check out new grocery store

Most Read