Boreal caribou is one of the biological species facing extinction due to human activities. These animals were once present in more than half of territory in Canada. However, over the last half a century, their historical range has been lost as pointed out by David Suzuki Foundation and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (2013). The primary risk to the survival of the caribou is industrial development, which has fragmented their habitat and made them even vulnerable to predation. Currently, only 30% of Canada’s boreal caribou is self-sustaining. The future of boreal caribou is not absolute, and their extinction is imminent devoid of an effective conservation measure.
Brief Summary of the Issue
The population of boreal caribou has been witnessing dramatic fluctuations since the early 1900s. Following a peak approximation of 100 thousand in the 1900s, the population dropped by about 85% to 10-15 thousand caribous in 1925. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) Assessment and Status Report (2014), it increased significantly by 84% in four decades, reaching about 94 thousand in the mid-1990s. In 2002, the population declined to approximately 68 thousand, and, since then, it has continued dropping. In 2013, the number of boreal caribous was approximated to be 32 thousand. Despite these fluctuations, the overall problem is that the population of boreal caribous is declining at an alarming rate that signifies potential extinction.
Causes/Vulnerability of Boreal Caribou to Extinction
Boreal caribou have some characteristics which hinder their capacity to recover from severe population declines. According to Environment Canada (2011), these animals segregate themselves from both predators and alternative prey, as a critical anti-predator strategy for survival, maintaining low population concentrations across their range. Therefore, continuity and quality of undisturbed habitats are essential in ensuring that local populations are self-sustaining.
Another feature of the population that exposes them to extinction is their low reproductive output in comparison to other ungulate counterparts. The female caribou characteristically do not give birth to calves until they attain the age of three years, and they can only produce a single offspring once every year. Besides, the death rate of the calves is high in the first four weeks (“Recovery strategy for the woodland caribou,” 2011). In general, the high death rate of calves and low reproductive output of caribou significantly contribute to their vulnerability to extinction.
The unavailability of accurate data concerning boreal caribou, primarily due to the sophisticated nature of their habitat, has misled people to think that this species is far from extinction. According to Ray (2018), boreal caribou are spread across large areas, hiding under tree canopies. Furthermore, they are often tucked away on far-flung remote areas or unreachable islands in the High Arctic. The absence of precise information makes it difficult to approximate the exact population of boreal caribou. The lack of such information is crucial in making conservation choices. When the data is not available, wrong conservation measures are adopted, and these efforts fail to achieve their purpose of preserving the population of boreal caribou.
Human beings pose themselves above all other creatures in the environment, and, for this reason, they are responsible for preserving it. According to the theory of environmental stewardship, human beings have both distinct cultural and biological aspects that set their cultures above and separate from the rest of the environment (Sutton & Anderson, 2014). For a very long time, for instance, Canadians in Manitoba have been involved in a culture that exposes boreal caribou to extinction. In Manitoba, boreal caribou have already become extinct for their original homelands, mainly because of activities related to human development. According to Thiessen (2012), there is credible scientific proof that the population of boreal caribou decline when human disturbances fragment vast areas of forest. In particular, disturbances by human beings include logging, mining, hydroelectric transmission, and development of road transport networks. Although these activities are beneficial to the economy, their dispersal into the remote zones of boreal forests harms the ecosystem. To be specific, these disturbances expose boreal caribou to predation by destroying their habitats.
Of all the human disturbances, logging has been classified as the most adversely impactful activity that contributes to the extinction of boreal caribou. According to Swift (2017), logging of Canadian forests is an overpowering driver of the degradation of caribou’s habitat. Moreover, studies conducted by the COSEWIC have revealed that approximately 30% of the boreal caribou might become extinct within the next 1.5 decades. At present, the Val-d’Or herd has been pushed to the age of extinction in Quebec.
The extinction of boreal caribou is impending because of predation and economic activities that have been carried at part of the human culture. The causes of the extinction tend to relate, accelerating the disappearance of boreal caribou. Human activities, such as logging, mining, and construction of transport networks, disturb the habitats of boreal caribou. By creating disturbances, these activities expose boreal caribou to predation by other animals. Stopping the relationship between human activities and predation of boreal caribou can be crucial in increasing their population and future conservation.
Cosewic. (2014). COSEWIC assessment and status report on caribou Rangifer tarandus, Newfoundland population, Atlantic-Gaspesie population and boreal population, in Canada. Ottawa, Canada: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Population critical: How are caribou faring? (2013). David Suzuki Foundation & Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Retrieved from https://www.cpaws.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/BorealCaribouReport-CPAWS_DSF.pdf.
Recovery strategy for the woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), boreal population in Canada. (2011). Environment Canada. Retrieved from https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_boreal_caribou_revised_0811_eng.pdf.
Ray, J. (2018, Oct 31). At risk of extinction. Canadian Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/risk-extinction.
Sutton, M. Q., & Anderson, E. N. (2013). Introduction to cultural ecology. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
Swift, A. (2017, Sept. 28). Logging industry needs to face the facts on boreal caribou. NRDC. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/anthony-swift/logging-industry-needs-face-facts-boreal-caribou.
Thiessen, R. (2012, Feb. 21). Saving caribou from extinction. The Manitoban. Retrieved from http://www.themanitoban.com/2012/02/saving-caribou-from-extinction/9157/.